Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
A little over two years ago I came across this book. At the time I thought it had been published just recently, but I realized later it was originally published in Canada in 2002 and then a little over a year later in the U.S. I can't even remember now how I first heard about True Confessions of a Heartless Girl. But I remember that the fact that it was set in Canada and written by a Canadian was part of the draw. That and the intriguing storyline. I'm mystified as to why we seem to rarely get wind of some of these gems from our northern neighbors. Heartless Girl was the winner of the 2002 Governor General's Literary Award and if this is any indication of the quality of the winners of that award, I will be paying attention to future winners and nominations. None of our local bookstores had it in, but my library did (bless them) so I picked it up on my way home from work and read it later that night as my husband snored gently beside me. One thing is for sure--I fell irretrievably into Martha Brooks' clear, evocative prose.
A note on the covers: I don't believe either one really captures the essence of the story. The one on the left is probably most accurate, though the coffee cup on the right isn't a bad touch.
Set in present-day Manitoba, the story follows self-proclaimed heartless girl Noreen. World-weary at 17, pregnant and on the run from her boyfriend Wesley (the first kind boy she's ever been with), Noreen steals his truck and his cash and winds up broke and alone in a small farming town not far from Brandon. Against her better judgement, Lynda (the operator of the local cafe) takes Noreen in and gives her a job. And thus she unwittingly unleashes a storm the likes of which the denizens of this small town have never seen. Each of them carry their own burdens. Lynda herself has escaped an abusive relationship and is raising her three-year-old son Seth on her own, while managing to run the cafe. Dolores Harper, the local wise woman, shows up sporting her "Meddling for Jesus" sweatshirt, ready to help the new girl open up. And Del Armstrong, the resident middle-aged bachelor, does his best to help Noreen, all the while unable to forgive himself for the tragedy that occurred the year he was her age. But will any of them be able to see beyond their own personal issues to save each other from their demons?
True Confessions of a Heartless Girl ought to be swallowed in one satisfying session, I think. The writing is spare but weighty. Brooks' words leave a mark on you long after your eyes move past them on the page. We get the story from the perspective of Noreen, Wesley, and several of the inhabitants of Pembina Lake--the small town of Noreen finds herself unable to leave. I loved the characters with their strengths and weaknesses, all of them prominently on display. Noreen isunbearably heartless at times. She is also sensitive and imaginative and capable of love. But where she walks, trouble follows. Everyone she comes into contact with meets with disaster as some point in the tale. But somehow they're unable to just wash their hands of this girl and let her go. Despite their own numerous personal issues, the people there take her in, feed her, give her work, and just try (sometimes against all reason) to help this girl whose life has been seemingly cursed since the day she was born. And then there's Wesley. The Cree construction worker with a sky full of stars and careful hands. I liked that he didn't let Noreen trample him underfoot. I liked that he yelled and stomped and left when he should. I get tired sometimes of the Tireless Good Guy. The one who's always there and comes back even when she doesn't deserve him. On the contrary, these two find their way back to each other only when their eyes can see clearly again. When Noreen learns how to stay still and not run. The vastness of the prairie is in this slim novel. It is exquisite and I love it.
Cheryl Rainfield Review (scroll down a ways)
Retro Friday Roundup