Bay Girl

132 pages,
ISBN: 1550501321

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Children`s Books
by Julie Burtinshaw

Sudden, unwelcome change is nothing new to East Coasters. Thirty years before the cod disappeared off the Grand Banks, the Canadian government adopted a policy of resettlement, and Newfoundlanders, living in remote outports, were forced to grapple with the agony of losing a way of life that went back generations.

In her novel, Bay Girl, Betty Dorion Fitzpatrick tackles this subject matter in a simple, easy to read format that young readers, girls in particular, will find fascinating.

It is 1962 and eleven-year-old Patsy, accompanied by her mother, journeys to Shoal Harbour-the tiny fishing hamlet on the edge of the ocean where her grandmother and uncle live. Here, she quite accidentally discovers truths about herself and her relatives that ultimately will transform her into a real Bay Girl, proud of her heritage.

This transformation is subtle, as page by page, Patsy hones the skills that have been passed down for generations from parent to child in outports up and down Newfoundland's wild coastline. She learns how to row her uncle's dory competently. She tries her hand at hauling in cod in the early morning fog. And alongside her mother, she cleans and salts the fresh fish, leaving it to cure under the weak Newfoundland sun.

With each newly acquired skill, Patsy's confidence soars, and with it, her respect and pride for her family history. Resettlement, Patsy learns, is not just about moving house. There are elements of Shoal Harbour that cannot be replaced or taken away: her grandfather's grave, for example, which is marked by a simple white cross, or her grandmother's two girlfriends. "Patsy saw Gran's face light up as she greeted her old friends. Even her wrinkles seemed to smile."

Regional dialect is sprinkled lightly throughout Bay Girl, but Betty Fitzpatrick Dorion is careful not to overdo it so that children from all over Canada can enjoy and understand this delightful story. I really liked the Glossary of Newfoundland terms, where one can discover, for example, that "vamp" is a "short, thick woollen sock".

This is a truly Canadian story about belonging-in a family and in a community. It is an optimistic tale whose themes of relocation and upheaval ring hauntingly true in modern day Newfoundland. 

Julie Burtinshaw is a writer/researcher who lives in Vancouver.


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