July 07, 2013

The Power of Harmony

by Jan L. Coates
Red Deer Press
260 pp.
Ages 9-12
May, 2013

There's a nebulous haze that pervades the atmosphere of The Power of Harmony.  Sometimes it's the darker gray or mauve of coal-mining, grief and prejudice but sometimes there's a vague yellow of the canary peeking through, working at bringing up a message.  Though it is often difficult to heed a message that is unusual or contrary, those who listen will know the benefits of it.  In 1968 Springhill Nova Scotia, nine-year-old Jenny knows the gray of Springhill's mining disaster, perennial sinkholes, and the bullying by Sarah Saunders (a.k.a. Queen Smirkle Bee) and the Bad Boys (Junior and Wade) but her wonderful parents, joyous baby sister, Bethy, and books bring much light into her life.

But, when a new student, Melody Summer Syliboy, joins their class, Jenny watches how her Nanny and others respond to Melody with a full-range of prejudices levelled against Aboriginal People.  Melody may withdraw from the taunts of the Bad Boys and ignore other insensitive comments, but she stands up for Jenny when she is bullied and saves her when she almost drowns in Pit Pond.  The two girls become friends, sharing a love of singing and the need to share their fears and secrets.

With the upcoming Miners' Hall Concert, on the tenth anniversary of the Springhill mining disaster, Melody and Jennifer are asked to sing a song together. They heed the words of surprise guest, Anne Murray, who tells them,
"Remember - sing with your heart and soul; harmony's a powerful thing." (pg. 238)
The harmony of Melody and Jenny is a powerful force, helping the two girls face extraordinary life challenges of death, shame, prejudice, grief, fear, and abuse.  Together they support each other as no one else could, providing the strength needed to overcome those challenges.  For two young girls, they endure much trauma, both within their families and more publicly.  But Jan L. Coates does not depict Melody and Jenny as anything but ordinary children, albeit more aware of how people treat each other.  They are emotive ("Try to swallow the fat lump of sad in my throat." pg. 143) without being emotional; kind without gushiness; and clever without being smart-alecky.  It's Jan L. Coates evocative text and careful plotting that elevate the girls to extraordinary while the history of Springhill, Nova Scotia, including the coal mining, the residential school and the prison, ground the story in reality.  The Power of Harmony could have been a cacophony of anger, abuse and prejudice but, with Jan L. Coates' considerate story-telling, it is a sensitive coming of age story in a socially-evolving Canadian setting.


  1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful review of The Power of Harmony. Your site is a great resource for readers of Kids Can Lit!

  2. A great review of a special book.