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Monday, January 3, 2011

Bitter, Sweet. Written by Laura Best. Nimbus Publishing. $10.95 ages 12 and up f

"Pru had no reason to believe that
the police had been sent for them,
but it had been the first thing that
came into her mind when she saw
the strange car parked out by the
road. Besides, Mama had warned
them that this might happen."

In 1940s Nova Scotia life is tough for the Burbridge family. Their father is a dreamer who drinks too much, and can't face life in the logging industry. He has settled his family in an old house, with few neighbors and leaves them with no forwarding address. Mrs Burbridge tries to keep the family afloat; but ill health plagues her and she passes on  her wisdom and survival skills to her children before she succumbs to the illness. When she dies, Pru knows they must not let anyone know. She fears that the children will be taken into care, and not be together any longer. They all live in fear of the 'law' knocking on their door.

Mama has taught Drew lessons and told stories that auger well for their success. She warns them that if anyone finds out that she has died, social services will have to step in and take care of them. Her lessons are well-learned and the children are able to keep the family together for a time, even through their father's short and heartbreaking return. When neighbors begin to suspect that things are not right the authorities are called in to check their situation. The older children prolong the conflict in hopes that things will get better. They are brave and committed to keeping the siblings together, after having managed on their own for so long. They pin their hopes on their family friend Reese. It is a sad and painful time for them as they try to honor their late mother's wishes. Finally, they realize they must trust their community and rely on others for help.
It is a remarkable story, so well told. Pru is a convincing and honest narrator as the story moves from present to recent events of the past and even to a further past. She follows her mother's brilliant and clear instructions, thinks back on all the events that have led them to this place and time and in the present, does her best to keep her family intact, offering love and support to all. Pru gives a clear picture to the reader of each of her family members, allowing us access to their daily concerns and accomplishments.
It is a book that is impossible to put down once you have begun reading about their journey from happiness to hopelessness, and then back again to happier times for everyone concerned. I also liked the way the author made the Nova Scotia landscape, and community such an integral part of the story. 

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