October 15, 2011

I'll Be Watching

by Pamela Porter
Groundwood Books
280 pp.
Ages 12+

Creating novels in verse requires such superb craftsmanship that few writers even attempt the genre (thank goodness).  Luckily, Pamela Porter, poet and author, has written another superb story in free verse, following up on her successful The Crazy Man, winner of the 2005 Governor-General's Award for Children's Literature.

It's the 1940s, and the Loney family of the small community of Argue, Saskatchewan are seem to have more than their share of hardships.  Their mother, Margaret, has passed on; their dad, George, drinks and remarries bitter and self-righteous Effie Slade; eldest son, Ran, enlists to make some money for the family (especially needed after George freezes in the cold, and Effie runs off with a Bible salesman) and the letters and money he sends all repeatedly disappear in the mail; and fourteen-year-old Nora works to take care of her younger brothers, Jim (mischievous at 12) and youngest Addie (non-verbal and "touched in the head"), eventually with little money for lights, heat or food. 

Their story is told through the voices of Ran, Nora, Jim, and Addie, as well as those of their parents, who watch over them and help as best they can.  The voices of the community - Gideon Freeman, an elderly black man; Dr. John Payne and his daughter, Susanna, Ran's sweetheart; the postmistress, Carol Williams; small-minded Effie Meany and Rev. Albert Meany (who keep silent about his sexual abuse of their daughter, but have sharp tongues levelled against the schoolteacher, Franz Lahr, who shares poetry with her); the good Father Andrew Innes and his wife Clara; and all manner of friends and acquaintances who flit in and out of the children's lives.

Though the story of the Loney's is one of hardship and undoubtedly a heavy one to endure, much less experience through the author's words, Pamela Porter puts the reader into the role of observers from above, akin to Margaret and George (although they do direct events).  Porter's depiction of each character, so varied and rich, as well the Saskatchewan landscape and life of WWII Canada, are so authentic that we have no question that this could be one family's story.

An emotional, poignant story not to be missed, exemplary of fine writing in free verse.

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