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Monday, November 15, 2010

Winter Shadows, written by Margaret Buffie. Tundra, 2010. $21.99 ages 12 and up

"Sometime later, I sat up wide-awake and clicked on my light. Daisy wasn't in bed. It was only 6:30 P.M. As I lay back on my pillows, my light suddenly went out. When it flickered on again, I was no longer in my bedroom, but sitting on a wooden chair, looking at the back of a line of gray dresses and white apron straps, edged in a hazy glow. One of the dresses turned around. It belonged to a young girl with a round face and dark skin, her black hair held back with a blue ribbon. She whispered something to the girl behind her. I could tell they didn't see me."

It's been a few years since I read a Margaret Buffie novel and the wait was so worth it! I have always admired her writing. She makes a ghost story believable and engaging. In her new book, she introduces her readers to Cass and Beatrice, ancestors born one hundred and fifty years apart, but with a strong connection. In alternating chapters we come to know them well, and to learn about the lives they are leading. In fact, they are quite similar.

Cass is struggling to keep her mother's memory alive in the house that she and her father are now sharing with her stepmother Jean and Jean's daughter, twelve-year-old Daisy. They are not easy times. Cass has not yet dealt with her mother's death. There is something that she knows about that day, but is keeping to herself. Everything that her mother loved is being put in storage or dismissed as unimportant, while the old house on the Red River undergoes renovations. 

A brooch found by Cass conjures up visions of  Beatrice Alexander, whose father built Old Maples, the house where Cass now lives. Beatrice is also dealing with an unwelcome stepmother who finds it hard to cope with 'the winter shadows of depression' and the jealousy she feels for her new husband's love of his daughter. Beatrice kept a diary that she leaves for Cass to read.  In it, Beatrice talks about the difficulties she faces with her distant and domineering stepmother, and her feelings for two new men in her life. They are as different as day and night and offer a startling contrast for this lovely, young woman. Cass is struggling with living in the house that seems destined to have no reminders left of the family life she so happily shared with her mother and father, before Fiona's death. Their contact is fleeting, but the diary offers a way to keep in touch. When the real one is finally found, Beatrice has left a personal message for Cass.
Her inability to come to terms with her mother's death prompts Cass to act out, and to blame everyone else for the struggles she is having. Her Aunt Blair and Cass' new boyfriend Martin help her find some peace. She is able to take this calm to a better relationship with her 'new' family, beginning to understand that Jean's life has not been easy, that Daisy is reaching out to her and that her Dad is looking for a new normal for himself, too.

I love Beatrice. She is such a strong and admirable character, supporting her father through his difficult times and loving and caring for her Cree grandmother, Aggathas. She stoically accepts her stepmother's moods and mistreatment, while working as a teacher and often doing duty as the 'woman' of the house. She is reluctant to let Duncan Kilgour become an important part of her life, while also feeling an attraction to his many fine attributes. Their relationship grows slowly, with humor and warmth, and in direct contrast to the relationship she thinks she can foresee with the new reverend, Robert Dalhousie. Nohkum is a wise and lovely woman, who gives Beatrice love and support at every turn. It takes time and effort for this family to work out a place of acceptance and understanding.

There is so much here to attract readers. It is historical and informative about Manitoba's past. It deals with the issues that blended families face, in the past and in the present. It helps us understand the need for communication during difficult times, and it offers up characters who will live long in our memories. What more can we ask?

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