Tuesday, March 21, 2017

On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light

On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light / Cordelia Strube
Toronto: ECW, c2016.
365 p.

Harriet is 11 (like many other tough and tender Canadian heroines). But Harriet lives in the Shangri-La, a decrepit apartment block full of seniors for whom she does errands for petty cash. And she survives in a dysfunctional family, her brother Irwin with a serious medical condition, her mother overwhelmed and unhappy, and an unsympathetic, messed up stepfather. 

Each chapter she is encountering another situation, either with her friends (such as they are), another family in the building, or her own. The level of oddness and "quirkiness" in the story really accretes and became almost too much for me. Harriet is tough-talking, adult sounding, when she negotiates with the seniors in the building for chore/pay equivalence. She is also a mixed media artist and has dreams of running away to live like Tom Thomson in a cabin in the north woods. At eleven. This combination of vulnerable child and artistic prodigy, a sport in her family, caused me to feel a little bit suspicious of her, due to overfamiliarity with this kind of character.

But as it turned out, I kind of liked Harriet, and by the time I started to actually root for her, well, it was 3/4 of the way through the book and then Strube really threw in a curveball that completely lost me. 

The rest of the book felt like a lengthy denouement that rambled on a bit. Or the beginning of a different story. While I admired the strength of writing and creativity in this book, I'm a little saturated with misery stories and so this tale of a young girl in a crappy situation, trying to make things better through her limited abilities and viewpoint didn't catch me in the way it has so many other readers. 

If you want a completely different opinion on this book that I found decidedly underwhelming, try reading thoughts by Kerry at Pickle Me This  or Angelene at Sad Hat Diaries, both of whom really liked it. 


  1. Thank you for your honest review of this book. I am curious about a few things, and will "check out" the other reviews you link to here.

    1. I hope you will - I think sometimes one just reads a book at the wrong time and it doesn't click.

  2. I recently read Lemon, which also turned out to be pretty heavy. But I loved it, so I'm thinking there's a good chance I would also like this one. I can see why the misery might not be for everyone, though! Especially depending on your mood...

    1. I'm a big mood reader, and sometimes mood and topic just don't mesh. I may give Lemon a try someday when I feel like it's the right time.


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