Monday, May 20, 2024

The Go-Between

The Go-Between / Jennifer Maruno
Leaside, ON: Red Deer Press, c2024.
184 p.

This middle grade novel, set in British Columbia in 1926, tackles racism, history, and family connections equally well. Sumi is the younger daughter of a Japanese family in Vancouver. She's curious, energetic and wants to be a journalist. Her older sister Yoshi wants to study dressmaking but has also just been asked to take on a summer job as a housemaid in remote Gibson's Landing.

Sumi offers to take the job so that Yoshi is free to study. It's not at all what she expected - she sleeps in a shed in the yard, and has to work hard all day long. But it's not all bad.

She finds a friend in the son of a local Japanese farming family, which helps manage her homesickness. Her personality is strong enough that she is able to withstand difficult moments, and to speak up when she feels she has to. She is helpful to the sickly mistress of the household, and earns respect for her work ethic eventually, even from the crabby housekeeper.

There are moments of crisis and drama -- a hurricane, a strike at the local cannery that she's secretly involved with, accusations of theft -- but as a middle grade novel nothing feels too dangerous, and Sumi comes through safe and sound. The issues of racism and classism were brought up naturally, in a way that younger readers can understand and feel.  

The writing is clear and the setting is vibrantly evoked. Sumi makes a great heroine, as she’s clever and determined. Her relationship with her family was a delight also, showing the strong ties that kept her going through this eventful summer. Based on the true story of Eiko Kitagawa Maruno, the author's mother-in-law, this book reveals an important part of Canadian history, in a very readable way.

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