September 17, 2018

Bright Shining Moment

Written by Deb Loughead
Second Story Press
178 pp.
Ages 9-13
September 2018

Twelve-year-old Adèline (Aline) Sauriol is ashamed that her family is poor. Even though they have a roof over their heads and food on their table and her clothes are always clean and mended, she is humiliated that she never has coins for the charity box on Sister Madeleine's desk or magazines at home from which she could cut pictures for a scrapbook. And she's especially abashed that Jeanine Bonenfant, her tormentor and a school troublemaker who is always getting the strap (this is 1940s Ottawa), often contributes. This is especially frustrating as it is evident that Jeanine's family is far poorer than Aline's and there are rumours that Jeanine's father is a drunk who beats his children and that Jeanine steals from her ill mother.
I like my house, even though we can only use half of it now and tenants will be living in the other half soon. I like my bed, even though it's in the living room now. I wish we weren't poor, though. I wish Papa didn't scowl so much. I wish we had bright shiny new things like some others do. I wish for a lot of things that I know will never come true. Especially the one for an "English" nose. (pg. 54)
Aline wishes for many things to be different but, in a time of economic hardships, there's not much she can do. And then she steals a dime–she intended to only take a penny–for the charity box only to find it has already been collected from the class. As her guardian angel and the devil–she is a good Catholic girl after all–try to sway her, the girl spends it all on candy for herself and her cousin Lucille, purchasing more than they can possibly eat and hiding the rest. While a shameful reminder of her indiscretion, that bag of candy helps Aline make things right for a number of people, family and not, during times of tragedy and joy.

As with most children, Aline sees what she perceives others to have as better than what she has, whether it be money to share for charity, a big house and hot water as her friend Georgette has, or a radio, beautiful clothes and a Christmas tree as their new tenants, the English-Protestant Coleman family, have. In her home, Aline knows how fortunate she is, proud of her mother's baking and care of her family, or her father's hard work and telling of Ti-Jean stories, and her siblings who bring life to her family. But when at school or on the street or visiting the Coleman's apartment or Georgette's house, she is envious of all they seem to have. Of course, Deb Loughead makes sure that Aline realizes that the grass is not always greener and that there are those who are happy to share their bounty. Fortunately, Deb Loughead's touch in Bright Shining Moment is subtle, never moralizing, always recognizing that people's stories are far greater than outward appearances may suggest. There is an appreciation for those who struggle and understanding for those who put on façades while still recognizing that there are those who are more fortunate and still charitable.

Aline may be searching for bright shiny new things, but Bright Shining Moment is one in itself, with its setting effusive with the times and the lessons both discreet and smart. Amidst her personal struggles with envy and shame and wishes for more, Aline eventually finds that brightness and it comes from the familiar. It comes from home.