Anna is dealing with one tragedy after another. Her best friend, Maggie, has life much easier—but barely recognizes that.
Based upon a true story, this tale is set in small-town Saskatchewan in 1948. Anna’s mother dies in childbirth, right after eliciting a promise from the seventh-grader that she’ll care for the fragile new baby. With an impoverished father who drinks too much and four siblings, including two much younger sisters, in addition to the baby, Anna leaves school to become surrogate mother to the brood. She illuminates her quiet despair in a believably desperate first-person narrative. In alternating chapters, Maggie relates that she’s the daughter of a loving Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman and a distant, often harsh mother. She frequently pushes back against her domineering mother and is rarely kind to her 5-year-old brother. The contrast between the two girls is perhaps starker than Young intended. As Maggie deals with a first boyfriend and smoking a stolen cigarette, Anna washes diapers and tenderly cares for her needy siblings. The immensity of the final tragedy that befalls Anna is crushing but also serves to completely trivialize Maggie’s various young-teen issues and her character, a shortcoming that’s exaggerated by a convenient, too-easy resolution of her trite problems. The cast appears to be an all-white one.
Although entertaining, this tale fails to fully plumb the depths of a moving and poignant topic. (Historical fiction. 10-14)