Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Two Book Reviews: Grayson and Randal Rogers \ Christine Ramsay

“Ghost Most Foul”

by Patti Grayson

Published by Coteau Books

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$10.95  ISBN 9-781550-506143

     I was able to devote almost unbroken hours to reading Ghost Most Foul by Manitoba writer Patti Grayson, and good thing: I was so swept up in this compelling juvenile novel I wanted to charge through it like an athlete storms through opponents to win a game.

     For starters, Grayson really knows how to begin a book. The brief prologue hints of a plane crash, a basketball game, and a disruptive ghost. How’s that for disparate elements? My interest was immediately piqued.

     The credibly-voiced protagonist, Summer, is a rising basketball star at her junior high school. She’s perceptive, caring, and enjoys a pleasant home life, but we learn that Summer has also experienced pain. She was an “easy target” for jeering bullies in elementary school due to a “crazy growth spurt” which put her a head taller than some of her classmates. Summer loses sleep over hurtful comments like “How’s the weather up there?’” Like many who are bullied, she tries her best not to attract attention.

     Summer both idolizes her inspirational coach and feels a very strong connection to her, as we realize in this passage: “Sometimes when [Coach Nola] looked at me like that, it was as if she were running a scanner over the bar code of my deepest thoughts, because the next thing she’d say would be exactly what I needed to hear.” As the story opens, Coach Nola names Summer captain of the basketball team, much to the fellow athletes’ surprise, as another girl, Karmyn, seems a more obvious choice. It’s just before the Christmas holiday, and Coach Nola is set to enjoy a tropical vacation. Before going on the trip she will never return from – at least in human form – the coach leaves Summer with this enigmatic line: “‘It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you win the game.’” Throughout this fast-paced novel, Summer struggles to understand the meaning of this, and by the end of the story we learn its import.

      Grayson, who’s also published two adult novels, addresses bullying from a less common angle, as well. The new coach - Kamryn’s soon-to-be stepfather - bullies the team’s weakest and least-liked player, Dodie Direland. He twists her surname into “Dire Straits,” and Summer Widden is tagged “Withering Heights.” The humiliation is none-too-subtle, and cuts deeply.

     I appreciated that this author never let us forget that although she’s smart and articulate, the main character is still a 14-year-old girl. “‘Try playing basketball when you have your period and a ghost!’” Summer says.  

     Can Summer rise above her own aspirations to win the Provincials as a true leader? Can she figure out what the spirit of Coach Nola is trying to communicate by appearing only to her? And will Summer’s parents have her committed when their daughter starts exhibiting some very unSummer-like behavior?

     The book holds the answers, and I’m willing to bet this novel will hook(shot) you – oh, the desire to pun was too great – just as readily as it did me.     





“Overlooking Saskatchewan: Minding the Gap”

Edited by Randal Rogers and Christine Ramsay

Published by University of Regina Press

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$39.95  ISBN 9-780889-772922


     If you’ve been to London, England, you’ll be familiar with the phrase “Mind the Gap,” a caution to tube-users re: stepping between the train and the platform. Randal Rogers and Christine Ramsay, joint editors of Overlooking Saskatchewan: Minding the Gap - a collection of diverse essays about Saskatchewan as seen through cultural, artistic and historical lenses - suggest their title is derived from the province’s experience of being overlooked: a metaphorical gap “between Calgary and Winnipeg, to be looked down on, literally, as one flies over.”

     The editors aspired to collect work that would have broad appeal “as a contribution to knowledge about Saskatchewan culture that builds upon important research,” and address the various “gaps” that have existed - or continue to exist - within the province. I surmise that the editors also wished to address why Saskatchewan should not be overlooked. They aimed to “authentically address what it means to live and belong in this place,” and they pulled in some heavy hitters to make their arguments.

     Although the book’s intended for both general readers and scholars, it was definitely the less academic – and relatable – work that stood out for this reader. That said, I would argue that anyone who reads the contributions of these 20 mostly Saskatchewan writers and educators (many from the University of Regina) will be rewarded with fresh insight into how the province was shaped and how colourful its history has been … and education’s never a waste.

     The chapters are at times almost celebratory, ie: Charity Marsh’s “In the Middle of Nowhere”: Little Miss Higgins Sings the Blues in Nokomis, Saskatchewan;” Herman Mitchell’s gratitude in “Shaking Rattles in All Directions: Minding and Mending the Gap in Saskatchewan Science Education,” re: the ten years he spent at First Nations University; and Ken Layton-Brown’s conclusion, in “Home Away From Home: The Chinese Community in Early Saskatchewan,” that for the Chinese, “the ‘gap’ …has greatly narrowed if not actually closed.”

     Other pieces are more contentious. Ramsay takes on Regina’s “blind boosterism” promoted via the “I Love Regina!” campaign, which she concedes overlooks “truly visionary infrastructure projects”. She points to “the ghetto of North Central Regina” and “east-end box stores” as examples of “social divisions,” and cites the work of artists that address Regina’s darker legacies, including racism. James M. Pitsula explains how the Ku Klux Klan made inroads into 1920s Saskatchewan - when the province was third largest in Canada - and was influential in ousting the Liberals.

     A poetic piece by David Garneau (“Roadkill and the Space of the Ditch: An Artist’s Meditation”) was an original highlight, as was how the story of Darrell Night, the Aboriginal Saskatonian whom two police officers dropped outside the city in sub-zero temperatures, was addressed by his aunt, Joy Desjarlais, in her memoir vs. how two CBC journalists recorded the incident in their lauded book.      

      Saskatchewan’s a lively, accomplished, complex, and still-evolving province; it should not be overlooked. I’m grateful for the learning, and now, I’m downloading some Little Miss Higgins on YouTube.    






No comments:

Post a Comment