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Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Glory Wind, written by Valerie Sherrard. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2010. $12.95 ages 12 and up

""Luke, you've got to believe and understand this. A thousand things - more than a thousand things - all worked together to put Gracie in that exact spot at that exact moment. Unless you can find a way to make yourself responsible for every last one of them, then you've got nothing to feel guilty about.""

I  knew within a few pages that this was going to be a book I could not put down. I loved the characters from the moment I met them, and I hung on to them as they dealt with prejudice and love, with small-mindedness and integrity, and with great happiness and deep despair.

They are 11 and they live on the Canadian prairies in the 1940s. They meet on a scorching summer day in July:

"She was partly hidden by a bush, kneeling on the ground with her hands bunched in front of her chin as though she was praying. Her face was framed by brown hair that sprang from her head in loops and spirals. The position she was in put me in mind of an oversized prairie dog in spite of the navy skirt and red blouse she was wearing."

It turns out that Gracie and her mother have just moved to town and are living in the house next door to Luke's family farm. It doesn't take long for them to become inseparable. Then school starts up again, and things change. Boys don't like to be seen talking with girls at that age, and Luke is unsure about Gracie's reaction to that news. Luckily, their wise, old friend Carmella offers some advice:

""Why, just that I never knew of any school where the boys and girls play much together, not at your age."
Gracie seemed to be thinking about that. Her face got a kind of pinched look that I'd seen whenever she was
pondering hard on something."

Carmella's advice holds strong until rumors start flying about Gracie and her mother Raedine, who takes a job at the local hotel that is also a brothel. It is soon discovered that Gracie is an illegitimate child, with no father. Prejudice and innuendo raise their ugly heads and Gracie becomes a pariah at school, shunned by the girls and teased mercilessly. Gracie seems little bothered by it all, but Luke is devastated by the treatment she receives and comes to her defence. Friendship and love is a stronger force than pettiness and prejudice.

Luke's parents set a good example for him, accepting Gracie into their household despite their misgivings about her mother, and offering a safe place for her to stay while Raedine is working. They do not explain what is really happening and that leads Luke to draw some of his own conclusions and to listen in on conversations to learn more.

Gracie's endless enthusiasm for life provides a stark contrast to Luke's more introspective nature. His voice is strong, emotional and heartbreaking as he narrates his story. He wonders, at times, if he is deserving of her admiration and friendship; but he knows exactly how he feels about her:

"By that time most of the boys my age had completely lost interest in ignoring me. It didn't much matter to me, for I'd come to realize that Gracie was worth a whole heap more than any other friend I had - more than all of the others combined, in fact."

I have read other books by Valerie Sherrard and have always admired her writing; but, this must be close to her best. I will have to check that out in the near future with the books I have not yet read. Her characters are flawlessly drawn, each playing a praiseworthy role in this brilliant story.  The voices are strong, the themes are difficult to face, the telling is elegant and forever memorable.

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