by Eve Richardson
Red Deer Press
When her obnoxious older sister Tiff gives birth to Stevie, it's thirteen-year-old Minto who delivers him, so it’s not surprising that the girl feels bonded to the baby. But when her sister disappears and her mother has an accident that sends her to hospital and rehab, the decision is made to put Stevie in foster care, and Minto refuses to let it happen. In a planned escape, she packs up two and a half-month-old Stevie in a sling beneath her mother’s winter coat and, with a laundry bag laden with formula, diapers, food and her sketchbook, heads out across a ravine to Shacktown, a menagerie of shelters constructed from dumped garbage.
I could, this moment, change my mind, go back inside, make it unreal. And lose Stevie.
Or cut, and keep him. (pg. 15)
There Minto asks for shelter from Dawn, an Aboriginal young artist, who lives with her large dog Niijii in the make-shift neighbourhood. Amidst the odd assortment of characters are the older Ginger and her nineteen-year-old son Matthew; the hyper Palma who speaks of her own baby, Janine, whom she’d given up to care; Palma’s “sister” Cass; the handsome Damian to whom Minto is attracted; an older, one-armed dump diver Scrap; and a couple of jerks, Lex and Cody. Everyone has their own way of surviving life on the edge, including prostitution, but Dawn sells her art and encourages Minto in her drawing, helping to sell some of her doodle designs as cards.
When Dawn has to leave to help her suicidal brother, leaving behind Niijii who has appointed himself Stevie’s canine guardian, Minto must ensure she can keep Stevie safe, fed, and clean, a tall order in such precarious circumstances. When survival is the priority for all, it’s hard to know whom to trust, especially when desperation dictates much. Too soon Minto learns she’ll have to save Stevie from far more than foster care.
Saving Stevie is a raw initiation into life in the tenuous urban neighbourhoods hidden in plain sight and those who make them their homes. Minto may be distressed by her situation i.e., the possibility of losing Stevie and feel the need to react by running away with the baby, but she learns soon enough that there are worse places to be. Eve Richardson pens a story of desperation and action that reveals that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the ravine. In fact, it’s pretty darn scary, even if there are a few friends around to mitigate the apparent hopelessness. Eve Richardson is especially good at giving Minto voice, a voice that is both young and mature, vulnerable and strong, with her heart and head working together to save Stevie. As a debut, Saving Stevie is an accomplished story, hopefully a portent of more YA from Eve Richardson whose own voice takes us into places we need to see but rarely do.
The book launch for Saving Stevie takes places tomorrow in Toronto. Details are posted here.