Kindness ultimately prevails, but not before hard times and ugly parochialism have their ways with several small-town residents, particularly three orphaned and then abandoned children.
Cast in the voices of the four Loney children, their neighbors, their dead parents and other witnesses living or otherwise, Porter’s free-verse poems tell a bleak story in plain, bleak language. The children are left to shift for themselves through a hard Saskatchewan winter after a series of miseries. First, their drunkard father freezes to death on the porch after being locked out, then their harsh stepmother abruptly departs with a traveling con man. Finally, the eldest, Randall, goes off to war (this is 1941). Not surprisingly, 14-year-old Nora and her two younger brothers quickly find themselves in desperate straits. The quiet acts of charity that help them get by are almost hidden beneath the weight of the local gossips’ cruel attitudes, the forced departures of the town’s German school teacher and a minister’s daughter sexually abused by her father and such less-public miseries as a postmistress who intercepts the money that Randall sends home and a lonely doctor who discourages his daughter’s recovery from polio. Though an extended side story about Randall’s experiences as a downed aviator in Nazi territory comes off as tangential, the admirably resilient Loneys well merit the ending’s reunions and new lives.
Strongly felt, if overstuffed, family drama. (Historical fiction/verse. 12-16)