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Monday, March 29, 2010

Piece by Piece, edited by Teresa Toten. Penguin Group (Canada). 2010. $20.00 ages 13 and up

"Who hasn't felt alien, isolated, or awkward, often all at the same time? Now stir in the added burden of knowing what was left behind - the aunties, the grandmas, the colours, the aromas...the familiar. No matter how the exit took place, under dire threat or with a sense of adventure, the immigrant always wrestles with memories of some irreplaceable treasures, forever lost."

Teresa Toten begins with 'My Piece' and tells an memorable story of the fear, isolation and hopelessness her mother felt when she found herself alone in a new country, with a small baby, and incomprehensible loss.

Most of the work included in this thought-provoking and fascinating book are essays. Two are not, and they add depth and strength to the collection on their own merit. Svetlana Chmakova uses a comic strip to share her humorous, heartfelt account of adjusting to a new country, while keeping her love for Russia strong and memorable. Boonaa Mohammed, a slam poet, shares his heartbreaking story of bullying in powerful free verse. As we read each of these pieces we are privy to the alienation, racism, hopelessness and even anger they often felt, while also sensing that all of these feelings have helped to make them successful on their chosen paths. It is our collective experiences that lead us to who we are...and these stories help us see that.

I could go on to tell you something about each of the entries but I want you to read them for yourselves, for your middle years and high school students, and for your own family. It is a collection that should be shared! Each helps put in perspective what it is like to be new to a country and culture, to try to find a comfortable place in that community, to take what life has been and use it to create a different one. They are each worthy of our attention and thoughtful reflection so that we see Canada, its cultural diversity and ourselves in a new way.

"Some of our writers came here for love, some for adventure. Others came to escape horror or deprivation, and still others were the unwitting hostages of determined parents. All had a longing to belong, and all have been enriched by and continue to enrich this country immeasureably."

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