December 10, 2015

A Big Dose of Lucky

by Marthe Jocelyn
Orca Book Publishers
249 pp.
Ages 12+
October 2015

"You may discover that going backward–discovering your past–will be the best route to the next chapter in your life." (pg. 31) 

This is what Malou, 16, is told as she and the other Seven girls in Orca’s Secrets books are released from the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls after a fire destroys it and they are given the barest of clues to their heritage.  Malou has never dreamed of having parents who might be monarchs or celebrities; she has only wanted an ordinary family that did things together.  The baby bracelet from St. Joseph's Hospital in Parry Sound with the name "Baby Fox" is her only clue to that family.  Though reluctant to leave, Malou heads by bus to Parry Sound, via Toronto, impressed by the diversity of people–her own skin colour had made her an anomaly in town where she was routinely identified as “the dark one or the little darkie or the colored girl” (pg.1)–and the newness of everything from pink popcorn to lemon meringue pie and grilled cheese.

In Parry Sound, Malou gets a bed at the local women's hostel and a job as a cleaner at the hospital, surprising considering her well-known untidiness at the Home, but "All it takes to be a cleaner? Don't be white." (pg. 70)  By way of a young orderly, Frankie, who shows an interest in her, Malou locates the stored records at the hospital and specifically the one for Sherry Fox who gave birth in 1948.  Along with an address, Malou finds a list of seven names which includes Sherry Fox's on the doctor's stationery and identified as A. B. cases.  Though her encounter with Sherry Fox, an Anishnaabe on the local reserve, reveals the bracelet was not Malou's but that belonging to, and taken from, Sherry's son Jimmy at birth, Malou makes an important connection with Jimmy and his classmate Pete and Pete's twin sister, Lucy, whose mother's name also appears on the list.

So begins a hunt by Malou and her new friends to locate the women whose names are on the list and find their connection.  A significant breakthrough comes from Pete's noting the physical similarity between Malou and a girl, Abby, who works summers at the marina.  And, with that, Malou and the other sixteen-year-olds are led to discover a program of artificial insemination at the hospital that involved an Jamaican intern named Andy Bannerman and probably others.  But this still does not reveal who Malou's mother may be.  Secrets long hidden may be being uncovered but it's only Sherry Fox's recollection of her own hospital visit that leads Malou to a mother she had long assumed dead.

The plotting by which Malou finds her mother is not as simple as that baby bracelet initially suggests, and for that I am thankful.  I should have given Marthe Jocelyn far greater credit, having read enough of her other books, including her young adult titles like How It Happened on Peach Hill (2007), Would You (2008), Folly (2010) and What We Hide (2014), to know the depth of her writing and the complexity of her storylines.  That plot is intense but secondary for me compared to Malou's experiences to become part of a world outside of the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls. Having  lived within the sheltered confines of the Home, Malou had little understanding, except via Joe the cook's small television, to glimpse the world of racial discrimination and the civil rights movement and multiculturalism, and her few experiences in town did little to expose her to all that world entailed.  Her discovery of the world and the freedoms that come with her departure from the Home are as much an eye-opener for the reader as they are for Malou.  She learns many things, none less than the price one must pay for freedom.
Freedom is harder than I expected.  Not the freedom part, but the making-decisions part.  Having a choice. (pg. 121)
All the girls in the Secrets series define themselves at the onset as orphans of the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls.  But ultimately, Malou learns “I’m not an orphan.  Not even half.” (pg. 249) and that she is very fortunate–there's A Big Dose of Lucky–having a family that is far more inclusive than ever imagined, except by Marthe Jocelyn.

Other books in the Secrets series are:

  • Innocent by Eric Walters 
  • My Life Before Me by Norah McClintock (Reviewed here)
  • Shattered Glass by Teresa Toten (Reviewed here)
  • Small Bones by Vicki Grant (Reviewed here)
  • Stones on a Grave by Kathy Kacer
  • The Unquiet Past by Kelley Armstrong

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