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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Voiceless, written by Caroline Wissing. Thistledown Press, 2012. $15.95 ages 14 and up

"Only the week before, Tully, Big Jerome and I lay in the straw in the loft of the big hay barn and Tully joked that when Mary and Bobby stood next to each other, they looked like a bowling ball beside a pin. I stole a guilty smile. Tully hadn't meant any meanness by it, and the image was true blue. Mary was enormous and Bobby the toothpick opposite."

Mary and Bobby and their Noble Spirit home welcome teenage foster children. Not many places do. Ghost, Char, Tully, Big Jerome and Graydon are very lucky to have such warm and welcoming foster parents and an environment that demands work while allowing for being part of a family. Everyone has chores and each of the teenagers has much in common with the rescue horses that Mary has collected. They are learning to care about each other, as much as possible given their circumstances. 

Caroline Wissing has a special place in her heart for lost children. She shared her thoughts in a recent interview with Kevin Craig at

"I dislike social injustice in all its forms, and find social injustice crops up as a theme in a lot of my writing. Homelessness is a national shame and should be everyone’s concern. In terms of teens, I was one and I remember how difficult it was to manage my emotions. I’m now parenting a teen and a preteen and I see how much they struggle with the pressures and choices that they have to make. I find teens need a parent, or at least a positive role model, more at this age than they did when they were younger, although they don’t seem to know it.

Without a stable a home, teenagers are terribly vulnerable. I think they want the same thing we all want: to feel safe. I’m not qualified to give advice to struggling teens, but it helps to remind them that these are probably the toughest years of their lives, of anyone’s life. Anyone who tells a teen that these are their best years is doing more harm than good."

She gives remarkable first person voice to Ghost, aka Annabel, whose drug-addicted mother gave her up to her grandmother years ago, and whose mother's drug-addicted boyfriend (high on drugs and looking for easy money) kills Ghost's Granny in a rage. Ghost is off to her first foster home, unable to talk and not knowing exactly why. Life up until now has been traumatic and unsettling. Her days with Mary and Bobby bring some joy and contentment, as well as temptation and torment. Graydon is last to come and to say he upsets the apple cart, is putting it mildly. Ghost falls instantly in love and refuses to see any signs that he is anything but exactly what she wants.
Her vulnerability leads her to strike out with Graydon for an independent and better life in Ottawa. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I found it very hard to read about her many struggles in her bid for a new life. After another terrifying and life-changing encounter she finds the strength to leave, becoming homeless and eventually ill enough to hallucinate. Following the Tully who speaks to her in her dreams, she walks into the path of a car and ends up in hospital. There, she finds the help she has needed all along...people who care for her broken legs and physio and a neurologist who makes an interesting connection to her speechless state.

With help and guidance from people who come to care about her, and a bequest from her unknown grandfather, Ghost begins to fashion a life that makes her happy. She reunites with Mary and Bobby, searches endlessly for and finally finds Tully, and forgives the others who have shared her previous life. There will be some who say that the ending is pat, and perhaps too right. I think that Ghost deserves it!  She is an admirable young woman who lives through more adversity than many can imagine. She has stamina and determination to make her life better despite all that has happened to her.  

This is not an easy read, but it is worth every uncomfortable moment, and 'Anna' is an unforgettable and honorable young who gives readers pause to consider life and what we make of it, and one who might just act as that role model another struggling teen needs. 

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