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Retro Friday Review: True Confessions of a Heartless Girl by Martha Brooks

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.

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Comments

  1. I've never heard of this one, but it sounds good! I love the Retro Friday Button, I'll be sure to add it to my posts!

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  2. YOu know I've been thinking of this for a while now. Do you mind if I do my own little retro-friday posts?

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  3. Kath, I'm glad. I had fun making it. Definitely snag it for your RF posts. :)

    Sami, you are more than welcome to! I generally post a little roundup of other RF posts when there are some. And I love reading them. Snag the button if you want as well.

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  4. Thanks Angie. I already took advantage of it! :)

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  5. Wow, this book does sound good! I like this meme, as it gives us a chance to remember all of the really great books that have come before.

    Adding it to my list now!

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  6. Anonymous4:51 PM

    As always your reviews sparkle and read like poetry, making me want to read everything you've given your stamp of approval to!

    --Sharry

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  7. Sami, awesome! Great choice for your first post as well. Lurlene McDaniel-that brings back some memories.

    Caitlin, it really is. Hope you enjoy it when it comes up in the TBR. :)

    Sharry, you are good at compliments girl. Thank you!

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  8. I think I'll give this one a try (if I can find it). You are a constant source of great book recommendations; I'm now a diehard Julia Grey fan, and I happily devoured "On the Edge" and "The Demon's Lexicon" this week.

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  9. Rachel, you have no idea how happy it makes me to hear that. I adore Julia Grey (as you know). And Brisbane. Of course. Did you hear the next one will be titled DARK ROAD TO DARJEELING? I can't wait...

    That sounds like solid weekend reading, too. Did you love THE DEMON'S LEXICON? :)

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  10. Ooooh there's already another one far enough along to be named? I also loved Moira Moore's books too, based off your recommendation. It's really handy finding a book reviewer who has almost identical taste in books :-)

    As for the Demon's Lexicon, I did enjoy it (very much so), but I thought it was interesting how Nick grew more, let's say, inhuman throughout the course of the book. His ability to banter and interact slowly vanished as he got closer to finding out the truth. I almost want to re-read it already just so I can see how he progresses now that I know what's really going on.

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  11. Rachel, wow, you loved the Hero books, too? Clearly we were meant to be friends. I'm so glad we found each other. :)

    Your point about DEMON'S LEXICON is a good one. I had noticed that as well. And I still marvel over the fact that she was able to make me care so much about someone who cared so little about others. Normally that would rub me wrong. But, man, I loved Nick. And Alan. I'll definitely be doing a re-read before COVENANT comes out!

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