A charming, sincere coming-of-age story set in a claustrophobic Canadian fishing town.
Though Odette LeBlanc has just been promoted to night supervisor at the convenience store, where she’s worked since graduating high school, the smart, hardworking 23-year-old longs for a life less ordinary. But working by night and sleeping by day in the trailer she shares with her compulsive-gambler mother and dangerously precocious 15-year-old sister, Odette has a difficult time envisioning anything beyond the drowsy New Brunswick village—until she meets a rich, handsome stranger visiting for the summer, and a lie of convenience becomes a chance for her to live out a pretend privileged life. Sailing at the local yacht club instead of sleeping takes a physical and emotional toll, however, and yet another handsome stranger—a mysterious free spirit who lives on a ramshackle, refurbished fishing boat—gives Odette a glimpse into a better future that doesn’t depend on money. Though these love interests aren’t far from being stock characters, Atkinson’s treatment of class is actually quite nuanced, and the rhythm of this debut, revolving around Odette getting up every evening and going to work the night shift, perfectly captures the hopeless routine in which her life is suspended. The night-shift scenes of Odette and her co-workers—aimless young people and a few adult immigrants, for whom the concept of “a better life” differs considerably—are some of Atkinson’s strongest. The other characters outside the central plot are also vividly conjured, including Odette’s best friend, Anne, whose sense of possibility is wrapped up in her long-term relationship—something naggingly absent in Odette’s life. Though the novel’s beginning tends to be heavy on exposition, and the resolution has swift closure thanks to a deus ex machina, Odette’s struggle not just to get out but first to simply imagine a way out is incredibly touching. The novel might be about a dream of escaping, but readers will be happy to stay.
A moving story steered by a likable if imperfect heroine whose combination of grit and hard luck will win readers’ hearts.