Allison's Book Bag

Round-up of NL Young Adult Fiction

Posted on: July 31, 2011


When Hold Fast was first published in 1978, it was hailed as a landmark of young adult writing and established Kevin Major as one of the best Canadian writers of his generation. Only a month after Michael turns fourteen, his parents are killed in a car crash by a drunk driver. Michael grew up in an outport or a small coastal community, but moves to a city to live with his relatives. As one would expect, he is less than welcomed by his classmates. Unlike Travis in The Nine Lives of Travis Keating, Michael stands up to his bullies with mixed results. While it is also not a great surprise when he doesn’t get along with his aunt or uncle, I enjoyed the budding friendship between Michael and his cousin. After enduring physical blows from his uncle, Michael decides it is time to hit the road and is joined by his cousin on a cross-island adventure. What I liked best about Hold Fast as a Newfoundlander is the colloquial writing style and the description of many familiar places. There is much to admire about Hold Fast. It shows the full impact that the death of parents would have on a teen (or anyone), with no punches held back. The portrayal of the contradictory emotions that teenagers feel while sorting through their moral values is also incredibly real. The character of Michael has been compared to Holden Caulfield and Huckleberry Finn, both of which seem valid to me. What I most liked is how Kevin Major achieved a delicate balance in depicting the struggle of rebellious adolescents to make mature decisions.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read it.

How would you rate this book?


Image by Purely Penzance via Flickr


Published in 2003, The Journey Home by Mike McCarthy is by a relatively unknown author. David’s parents have also been killed in a car crash. In contrast to Michael, David hails from Ontario and is bounced around foster homes. He even spends time in prison. This background information is raced through within the first few chapters but is summarized best on the back cover. After his prison sentence, David makes yet another bad decision that turns him into a fugitive from the law. Stowing away on a truck, he emerges to find himself on a ferry to Newfoundland, where he has no choice but to make a new life for himself. His romance to Brenda happens overly fast. I also preferred his quiet adjustment to the island, as opposed to his dangerous encounters with smugglers. These criticisms aside, this is another good example of a coming-of-age story of a troubled teenager, with some romance and adventure to boot. What I liked best about The Journey Home as a Newfoundlander is the portrayal of a strong work ethic of the fishermen. I also appreciated the sympathy shown for adolescents who find themselves in trouble due to making stupid decisions and the conflicts which they undergo in trying to face their mistakes.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?


Catch Me Once, Catch Me Twice is the second book I read by Janet McNaugton. Like her book for young children, this is also a historical novel. Unlike The Sweater Saltbox, it integrates many aspects of history: World War II, the blackout during that time, midwifery, and even memories of fairy encounters on the Battery. Evelyn McCallum, whose father is posted overseas in the army, moves with her mother from a happy life in an outport to the city. Up to this point, she resembles Michael in Hold Fast. She even has some of his reckless anger, using a pocketknife from her father to damage items in her grandparents’ home. Beyond this similarity, their lives are much different. Evelyn’s mother is alive and having a difficult pregnancy. Evelyn finds a close friend in a boy with a crippled leg. Together, they learn from a relative how to make wooden toys. Despite the fairy encounter, the book is a suspenseful and fascinating historical novel. What I liked best about Catch Me Once, Catch Me Twiceas a Newfoundlander is the portrayal of life in 1942. As with several of my earlier examples, I also appreciated the portrayal of complex relationships between Evelyn and her parents, and her grandparents, and even her peers. My favorite part comes near the end, when Evelyn has a chance for her heart’s desire to come true but must decide what that is and whether to take the risks involved.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?


Image by crowdive via Flickr


By now, you may have identified some common features in the young adult books I chose: absence of parents, romance, and life in a new place. Why should A Sky Black with Crows by Alice Walsh be any different? Katie Andrews and her family spend the summer of 1913 fishing in Labrador. During a storm, her father is lost at sea. When the other fishing families return to Newfoundland for the winter, her mother refuses to give up hope that her husband will return and so insists the family stay where they are. Not too long after, the family is struck with a fever. By the time they are discovered, the mother has died. The youngest sister has also disappeared. The rest of the book is about Katie’s attempts to find her sister, but also to become a nurse. She is assisted by Matt and by other acquaintances she makes along the way. What I liked best about A Sky Black with Crows as a Newfoundlander is the portrayal of life in Labrador, along with that of the Grenfell Mission. In 1892, a young doctor by the name of Wilfred Grenfell sailed to Labrador, where he discovered a complete absence of doctors. He was so moved by the plight of the people there that he dedicated the rest of his life to their service.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read it.

How would you rate this book?

Why did it take me so long to discover Newfoundland and Labrador fiction? The lists of book recommendations that served as guides to the reading selections of my youth were naturally populated with mainstream titles. Regional books rarely made it onto these lists; unless they were such exceptional reads that they were picked up by a larger publisher. Many were not, because they represented local interests. Not until I moved away to the United States did I start feeling a need to clasp onto my unique heritage. Books represent one way for me to do this. Year by year, I am expanding my personal library with my own regional collection. I encourage you to do the same.


2 Responses to "Round-up of NL Young Adult Fiction"

After reading your roundup of Newfoundland and Labrador young adult fiction, I reread Hold Fast and read A Sky Black with Crows. Just as I had when I first read Hold Fast, I liked its “colloquial writing style and … description of many familiar places” and its “portrayal of the contradictory emotions that teenagers feel while sorting through their moral values.” However I preferred A Sky Black with Crows because, unlike Hold Fast, it is suitable for juvenile as well as young adult readers. Things that I like about it are the story (“Katie’s attempts to find her sister [and] to become a nurse”) and its “portrayal of life in Labrador [a hundred years ago] along with that of the Grenfell Mission.” When I was still a teacher, I read Joyce Blackburn’s Wilfred Grenfell (Word Books, 1966) to at least one of my grade five classes. If A Sky Black with Crows had been available at that time, I would likely have read it to my class instead.

From the little information I could find about Alice Walsh, A Sky Black with Crows seems to be her first entry into young adult fiction. Previously, she seems to have written picture books and a book called Pomiuk, Prince of the North that seems to be aimed at young readers. It is also about Labrador.

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I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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