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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Shattered Glass, written by Teresa Toten. Orca, 2015. $14.95 ages 12 and up

"The streets were deserted. I had a thousand questions about the party, but I used all my willpower to keep my mouth shut. He, too, was quiet, lost in thought. It was like we had the city all to ourselves. Every so often Cassidy would stroke or squeeze my arm, but every so often he would also shake his head and sigh. Just a little. I didn't think he even knew he was doing it."

This is one of a series of seven tales, meant to introduce us to the seven oldest orphans from the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls which burns to the ground in June, 1964. It leaves those girls and everyone else living there to face a very different existence. As with each of the other 'oldest' girls, Toni is sent out into the bigger world with cash and three items that may hopefully lead her to learn about the circumstances of her birth: a release certificate from the Toronto General Hospital, a restaurant menu from the Noronic, and a club playbill from a place called Willa's. They are the only clues to her real identity.

Her sheltered world is about to take a dramatic turn. The small town existence that is all she has known has certainly not prepared her for Toronto. Arriving without any plan, and hope in her heart, she is able to find a room, get a job and begin the search that may eventually lead her to discover the reason for the fiery nightmares that have tormented her since her arrival at the orphanage. What about the scars on her skin and the hatred she feels for the mother she cannot really remember?

Toni is bright, but very naïve. Her experiences in the orphanage have in no way prepared for all that she encounters as she tries to plot a course for this new existence. Many big city experiences threaten to overwhelm her, and misunderstandings concerning language lead her to a very dangerous place. Through it all, she manages to gather a wonderful group of friends who become her new family, supportive and understanding as she makes mistakes and learns from them.

As she probes the clues shared, she learns the identity of both her father and mother, the sadness of her mother's life left alone with a small baby following her father's death, and the reasons for her scars and her nightmares. Ethan, the young man who is always on hand to help and to protect her, is worthy of her love and trust.

Teresa Toten is an accomplished storyteller, writing her stories with beautiful language and thoughtful detail. There were often times when I found myself going back to reread a passage:

"I didn't say anything. I decided this was going to be my new strategy in the face of my intolerable stupidity. I was getting real sick of not knowing what people were talking about. From now on, I'd keep my mouth shut, and in the ensuing, uncomfortable silence, the deliverer of the unknown word, phrase or concept would feel compelled to explain."

"And she was clearly refreshed. Weeks and weeks of watching Mrs. Grady Vespucci up close had let me in on the telltale clues. Grady was swaying on the inside. This was what she described as "the sweet spot." Thing was, she rarely stopped there."

I combed my transgression memory box and came up empty. My panic was in full bloom by the time I got to the office."

"Did I shrug while I shook? Stupid, stupid girl.
I was gulping down shame in batches so sticky that I couldn't free the words to thank him. I couldn't even look at him."

If you know readers who will enjoy this book, they are likely to want to read the other six books in the series.

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