October 06, 2015

Shattered Glass

by Teresa Toten
Orca Book Publishers
978-1-459810976 (pbk)
256 pp.
Ages 12+
September 29, 2015
Reviewed from audiobook

"Kid, your life makes mine look like a beige wall."

These words, spoken by sixteen-year-old Toni's Yorkville landlady, Grady, could not be truer, though surprising, considering the colourful and perhaps tragic circumstances of Lady Grady's own life.  But Toni, whose life has been turned upside-down by a fire at the orphanage she has lived at for the past 14 years, has a story as complicated and heartbreaking as any of the songs that Teresa Toten uses to title her chapters.

Toni, who has been plagued by nightmares of fire and smoke and cuts, is one of eldest seven at the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls, who is given a few bits of paper as clues to her heritage and some money to start a new and independent life for herself.  For Toni, these bits include a yellowed menu, a playbill from a club named Willa’s in Toronto, and the discharge paper detailing her hospital visit immediately prior to her arrival at the Home.  For the first time, Toni knows her name, Antoinette Royce, and her mother’s, Halina Royce.

But her first order of business is to get herself settled, which she promptly does finding a room at Grady Vespucci’s and a job waitressing at the Purple Onion café, both in Yorkville.  As reliable and hard-working as Toni may be, she is determined to be “smart and fearless and sassy” (pg. 27) and begins to search for her father, seeing him first in folk singer Ian Tyson, of Ian and Sylvia fame, and then in Brooks Goldman, the lead musician of the Purple Onion’s band and father of Ethan, a young man who seems to take an interest in Toni and watches out for her.  But Toni’s quest for her family is a difficult one, as she harbours a fear that her mother is responsible for the fire and for the injuries she incurred before she ended up at the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls.  And she keeps letting her imagination take her off the beaten path to identify her father.

In addition to Grady and Big Bob, the owner of the Purple Onion, Ethan and his father Brooks, Toni becomes acquainted with a handsome young man who runs another club, flattered by the attention he bestows upon her.  Sadly, just as Toni misinterprets so much about her own life history, she sees Cassidy as a potential love interest, oblivious to the messages she should be getting about him but is naively ignorant.  As desperate as Toni is to find some closure to her past–“The shadows cripple you” (pg. 162)–she can’t see the family she is building around her, with a motley group of individuals who all care about her, regardless of her origins or naiveté.  Fortunately, set to an awesome selection of music embedded in her story, Toni is able to learn her true story, though it is a sad one.

Teresa Toten gets the reader in the gut with Shattered Glass. Imagine a young girl who is convinced her mother is no good and in looking for her father convinces herself she’s found him, more than once!  Without ever intending it, Toni creates her story and continues to revise it as the facts come to light.  Still Teresa Toten allows Toni the freedom to be strong and forthright while letting a sliver of hope about her father add an undersong to her present life.  It’s a compelling story, Toni’s and Shattered Glass, that is never obvious nor predictable but rather sweeping as it carries Toni and the reader along to a satisfying conclusion.  As the Rolling Stones sang just a few years later, “You can't always get what you want, But if you try sometime you find, You get what you need. “  Toni does.

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