January 04, 2014

Driftwood

by Valerie Sherrard
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
978-1-55455-305-1
200 pp.
Ages 10+
October, 2013

With the recent awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Alice Munro, I think we can consider the short story as coming into its own.  And while Valerie Sherrard's Driftwood is not a collection of short stories, it has at its heart the telling of short stories as perfect vignettes of life lessons. 

Although eleven-year-old Adam's summer at a cottage on Schooner Point, Miramachi for two months has a rough start when his best friend Billy cancels the day before they're supposed to leave, it becomes a pivotal one for him.  It's a coming-of-age summer with Adam learning to see, not just look. While Mom tries to recharge her artistic juices (her popular paintings of their local covered bridge seem less inspired) and Dad works away on his computer, Adam explores the area, finding new acquaintances amongst the other cottagers.

Though Adam meets an assortment of kids, older and younger, male and female, friendly and arrogant, it's his first cottage friend, Joey, who introduces him to Theo, an older blind gentleman, who pays $5 for interesting pieces of driftwood.  Better than the money are the stories that Theo shares based on the wood's origins.  But as  entertaining as his stories are about the lychee, the oak, the mountain mahogany, the baobab and the mountain ash, it's what his audience derives from these tales that is the most significant.  Sometimes there are life lessons about telling the truth, or karma, or friendship, or secrets.  What the listener or reader can take from the stories depends on their own circumstances and whether they're listening.
"Our hearts hear the whispers they need to hear.  If we are wise, we take them in." (pg. 174)
The driftwood provides the impetus for life lessons to be taught but it is Adam who is the most significant driftwood, set loose by a no-show friend.  He goes into the summer with a disappointment chip on his shoulder and then drifts from one situation to another, never really taking root.  By melding these interactions–many endearing, some humourous, at least one frightening–with Theo's stories, Valerie Sherrard turns a summer vacation into a summer of growth for Adam, though it's unlikely that he recognizes it completely for what it is until he returns home.  In Driftwood, Adam finds his own story, beginning to understand himself and those around him, and discovering that he can control how he establishes himself with others.  He's looking and finally seeing, hearing and finally listening, and learning and finally understanding.  Similarly Driftwood encourages the reader to read beyond the words to discover the beauty of a boy's simple summer.

3 comments:

Marsha Skrypuch said...

Great review, Helen. Love this book. Driftwood sneaks up on the reader, doesn't it?

Helen K said...

That's a great way of putting it, Marsha, and it certainly does. Kudos to Valerie on her versatility in writing style.

Darlene said...

This sounds like a great book. I must check it out.