One of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Best Books for Kids & Teens of 2010
One of the International Reading Association’s Young Adult’s Choices of 2011
My fifth young adult novel is a very special one for me because it is set in one of my favourite places in the world: Newfoundland.
In 1991 I had the good fortune to move to Newfoundland with my husband and baby daughter. We had no idea what to expect. My husband had received a phone call from the English Department at Memorial University (we were in Nova Scotia, where I did my Master’s Degree, at the time) and they had kind of offered him a job. This was good news since we were both without work at the time. The kind of is because they didn’t exactly have a sure job for him, just a strong maybe. Well, it was enough to make us load up the U-Haul and head to the ferry in North Sydney. It all seemed like a great adventure at the time.
I had heard about Newfoundland and how beautiful it was supposed to be. When I lived in Toronto at the age of nineteen I worked with a woman from there and she talked about home all the time. I got the sense she really missed it. She made it seem peaceful and idyllic, a place full of family and close ties. On the ferry, which is a 14-hour ride, there was a great sense amongst the Newfoundlanders that they were happy and excited to be on their way home, like they couldn’t wait for the ship to pull into Argentia. As the ferry swayed and rocked through the night they chattered, full of anticipation that we shared.
All this strikes me as meaningful now to my book, because this novel is very much about someone wanting to go home. The irony, however, is that my main character, Cheryl, does not call Newfoundland home. It’s just one other place she is being dragged to by her parents. Her “real” home is Montreal, the place she had to leave three years ago when her father started taking his family to strange places to study different cultures affected by change. That is the home she desperately wants to return to. She’d do anything to turn the plane around.
I think of myself all those years ago as a young mother with a six-week old baby in my arms, wondering whether we had made the right decision to make the crossing to the rocky island where we knew no one, not a soul. The winds up on deck were so strong I was afraid my daughter would be ripped from our arms and tossed into the wild waters.
In many ways this book is a tribute to the unexpected, to the idea of taking a chance and allowing an experience to play itself out – like we did all those years ago when we said yes to the sketchy job offer.
So often, we wish life were different, that we could be anywhere other than where we are. When I wrote the book, I wondered about all the things we would miss, that I might miss, if I lived life with that attitude. In a way, it’s an attitude the media encourages people to have from an early age. Advertisements are always telling us to want more, to want change, to make ourselves different, to never be happy with what he have or who we are.
We ended up staying in St. John’s, Newfoundland, for two years. Luckily, the maybe job offer turned into a real one. We made many good friends and fell in love with the beauty and charm of the landscape on “The Rock.”
After our return to Montreal we went back a few times to visit old friends. It was on a trip six years ago, after an absence of eight years, that my friend Lori (to whom the book is dedicated) took me up Signal Hill (the hill made famous by Marconi and his radio signal). It was a gorgeous sunny day. As I stood at the top of the hill looking down over the rocks and into the water where whales we playing, I was overcome with emotion. I knew I would always miss this place. It was then that Cheryl began to speak to me.
Soon after my return, I wrote the opening scene.
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