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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Timber Wolf, written by Caroline Pignat. Red Deer Press, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2011. $12.95 ages 12 and up

"I learned that everyone has a story...and that sometimes there's hurting before there's healing." I think of how I miss Da and Mam, of what I did to Benoit, to Mick, to Annie and Kit. My voice lowers as I finish. "...and I learned that the things I'd rather forget are the ones I must always remember. For the worst mistake is not learning from my mistakes."

I've been spending my sleepless nights with some amazing characters lately. I was immensely happy to catch up with Jack in this wilderness adventure. His is the third story of the Byrne family that began with Greener Grass (Red Deer Press, 2009) and continued with Wild Geese (Red Deer Press, 2010). Each stands as a riveting read; together, they are a wonderful saga.

Caroline Pignat began in Ireland, inspired by her Irish ancestors, to tell a story of the great famine and one family's plight. That story brought her to the family making the journey to a better life in Canada and now to the Ottawa region of Canada where Jack Byrne has been working with as a logger with his friend Mick.. When we first meet him, he is perplexed:

"The howl wakes me, calls me from one darkness to another. My right eye opens but my left is a throbbing slit. Bare branches. Twilight beyond. I'm on my back. Outside. Somewhere. I'm alive. Barely.
What happened?"

We learn that Jack has little memory of his life until now, and we watch as he struggles to remember.
The winter weather is life-threatening, the wilderness conditions are harsh and foreboding. His strong sense of family love has him believing that someone is looking for him; he holds out hope that they will soon find him. His injuries are worsening and he is unable to fend for himself much longer. Food is scarce, and the wolf draws nearer each night. He begins to lose hope.

Rescue comes in different forms. Jack learns the lessons he needs to learn in order to survive in the wilderness. As he heals and has contact with some amazing people, he begins to unearth scenes from his life up to now. The soft beat of Grandfather Wawatie's drum tells his tale of joy and loss and helps Jack to understand the need for his own:

"With stories said and sung, soon everyone is silent. I hear their breathing grow long as each one sinks deeper into dreaming. But I can't sleep. I need to know my stories. My ancestors. I need to know it all. For what good is a man with no story?"

His memories are heartbreaking and humbling. With help from a wise grandfather, he faces his future:

"Grandfather Wawatie turns to me and takes my head in his hands. He rests his wrinkled forehead on mine and I close my eyes. "I see you, Jack Byrne, I know you. You have learned the lessons of loyalty and truth from a great Teacher - the Wolf. You are kin to this animal who is forever faithful to his pack."

A birchbark canoe is gifted and Jack begins his journey 'home':

"The current carries me forward, faster and faster, as the trees whip past. I smile. After all this time, I'm finally going home. For if the Wawaties taught me anything, 'tis that home is neither log nor land, but the people that we love."

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