April 27, 2015
In October, 2004, almost thirteen-year-old Kami is uprooted from Vancouver to Edmonton where the girl has inherited her grandfather’s home–or she will if she lives there until her 18th birthday–and where her mother has secured a “career opportunity” as an urban designer. But The Journal is not just a coming-of-age story of new experiences and adventures. It’s a story about power, compassion, courage and family. The control imposed on others purportedly for their own good, whether it be adults upon children, the authorities to those whom they serve, or men onto women, will give readers much upon which to reflect. And I mean lots.
Kami is definitely thrust into a situation in which she has no control and there is no one to whom she can turn for support: her mom who accepted the position in Edmonton before talking to Kami about it is always too busy; Kami hasn’t seen her father in years; her mom’s parents remain in Vancouver; her father’s mother has passed and the grandfather who has left her his home in Edmonton has moved to PEI to live with his daughter; and her friends are as distant as all her plans for playing soccer and a joint 13th birthday party with friend Becca. Not surprising that Kami is left alone to investigate her new home, discovering some memorabilia including photos and an old journal in the attic where she intends to make her loft bedroom.
But the journal of thirteen-year-old Helen Mitchell slips Kami into January 1929–though she remains in the same house–where she overhears talk of pilot Captain “Wot” May's plan to fly an anti-toxin up to Little Red River Settlement in northern Alberta where a diphtheria outbreak has occurred. Though Kami returns promptly to her own time, a visit to the library and reading a newspaper clipping in the journal about the “Mission of Mercy” transports her back in time again, this time making the acquaintance of Helen Mitchell and her family as they head to the airfield to see pilots May and Horner off. But Kami cannot find the means to be transported back to 2004, and must deal with the repercussions of being a girl of Japanese heritage, seemingly without family, in a time when cowering to those in authority is deemed respectful and showing gratitude.
Kami does return to her own time, and back to 1929 again as well, but no matter what time period she is in, she must find ways to deal with issues of inequality–racial, gender and age–and learn from those who have charted pathways to making things right.
Lois Donovan does a commendable job of intertwining historical events such as the Mission of Mercy and the actions of the Famous Five with Kami’s life in 2004 Canada, and having Kami see her own dilemmas in relation to those of much more difficult times. But I could not stop myself from despising Kami’s mother, and this probably prevented me from experiencing the fullness of the plot of The Journal. In a book in which ordinary individuals show extraordinary courage and compassion to deliver medicine to a remote community, Kami’s mother shines as a self-absorbed parent who repeatedly fails to see how her decisions are solely beneficial for herself and disrespectful of her daughter. The Journal's ending, however, is proof of Kami’s ability to forgive and her youthful resilience, because the theory of karma suggests that Mom should be the one tripping over herself to make things right.
I suspect that younger readers will not overemphasize Kami’s mom’s flaws as I have and instead will recognize the plotting as an opportunity to see into a different time and the bounty of their own lives relative to 1929. By making Kami into a young teen whose strife-filled life is still manageable, Lois Donovan has provided hope for all and any, even those with me-first mothers.