Orphaned and alone in 1800s Newfoundland, a young brother and sister contend with the dire hazards of their coastal surroundings and their own strange physical awakenings.
Evered, 11 at the start of this epic, and Ada, two years younger, have in short order lost their parents and their newborn sister to illness. Their childhood largely denied them—Evered's hair turns white after burying his father at sea—the siblings must overcome food shortages, bone-chilling cold, ferocious storms, temporary blindness caused by exposure to the vast ice field, sickness, and the occasional wandering bear. They live for the next visit from The Hope, a schooner that arrives every six months to trade food staples and supplies for cod. Between visits, they take great risks to find food sources and, on a wrecked ship outside the cove, warm clothes. Nestled up against each other for warmth, Evered and Ada sleep in the same bed, an arrangement that will open them to a world of mysteries they never knew existed. Watch out for the drunken shipmen from The Hope looking the teenage Ada over. Crummey, whose distinctive vision informed the Newfoundland stories in Galore (2011) and Sweetland (2015), writes in a style consistent with the period. (Those tired of the usual phrases for lovemaking might try "They two joined giblets.") But the book's central image—the traumatizing sight of naked dead bodies in the hold of a wrecked ship—shocks in a contemporary way. And Crummey's refusal to go where you might expect—the offbeat humor can catch you by surprise—provides page-turning pleasures. You can't wait to see what happens next.
An unusual, gripping period novel from a much-honored Canadian writer.