Meet Author Joanna Goodman

Joanna Goodman, author of the One Book, One Community selection for 2019, The Home For Unwanted Girls, is visiting the Region of Waterloo from September 24 to 26. Four (4) author events, including book signings, have been scheduled:

Tuesday, September 24
7:00pm to 9:00pm
Knox Presbyterian Church, 50 Erb St W, Waterloo, ON N2L 1T1

Wednesday, September 25
1:15pm to 2:15pm
Waterloo Oxford District Secondary School, 1206 Snyder’s Road West, New Hamburg N3A 1A4
Note: this event is open to the general public, not just to students of Waterloo Oxford.

Wednesday, September 25
6:30pm doors open, 7:00pm program begins
Kitchener Public Library – Central Library, 85 Queen St N, Kitchener, ON N2H 2H1

Thursday, September 26
6:30pm doors open, 7:00pm program begins
Trillium United Church, 450 King Street East, Cambridge, ON N3H 3M9

All of the author events are free but attendees are advised to arrive early for a good seat.

To learn more about Joanna, The Home for Unwanted Girls and One Book, One Community, visit oboc.ca

The Home For Unwanted Girls: A Conversation

The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman is a story about a young, unwed mother forced to give up her child. Loosely based on real life events, the book is set in Quebec during the 1950’s under the leadership of Maurice Duplessis.

The Home for Unwanted Girls is this year’s One Book, One Community selection. Bloggers Nancy, Lesley and Penny M. sat down to discuss the book:

What was your initial reaction to the book?

Nancy: I finished the book with a sense of despair and anger. Here is another example of the abuse of power that was and continues to be rampant in our world.

Lesley: I had feelings of outrage and at the same time optimism. The book covers a lot of unpleasant truths about the treatment of women and orphans in Canada, but overall it gave me hope. As a society we have come a long way from the days of asylums and terms like ‘unwed mothers’ and still continue strive for empowerment.

Penny M: I wouldn’t have chosen to read Joanna Goodman’s book if it hadn’t been this year’s OBOC pick (which is exactly what the program is meant to do – push us to read books outside what we would normally be drawn to) so I was thrilled to find that it was book that kept me interested to the end.

How would you describe the overall theme of the book?

Nancy: The underlying theme of this book was the reflection at all levels of how power corrupts and how insidiously entrenched in our societal mores the imbalance of power is. The chasms that exist between the rich and poor, the governed and the governors and the patriarchal church leadership and the masses, reflect the struggles for those who are forced to live their lives under that arbitrary inequality.

Lesley: I would say that there are many themes in the book – motherhood, women’s rights, abuse and corruption. But to me the main theme is resilience. Both characters (Maggie and Elodie) experience abuse but ultimately have the strength to form their own lives.

Penny M: It’s hard not to see this book as one that explores the abuse of power and the way that children and women were not given a voice but overall I think the author is talking about family.   Joanna Goodman writes in the author’s notes that she based some of the novel on her own family’s story so it feels like she wants to celebrate the way that family can triumph over a system designed to keep them apart.

What was your initial impression of the main character Maggie? Did your perception of her change during the story?

Nancy: I liked her strength and her spirit. She was caught between wanting to live a life different than her mother’s but also her fierce loyalty and love for her father. As the story unfolded, I saw her as a woman who was trying to break free from the societal chains that have always attempted to keep women from recognizing their power. Ironically, she was able to start coming into her own when she was finally able to reignite and solidify her relationship with Gabriel.

Lesley: I also saw her as a young woman who wanted more than the average life of a woman in that time period. She didn’t want to be defined by society’s rules, which was a very difficult thing to do. As the story went on Maggie definitely formed her own unique identity.

Penny M: As the scaffolding of Maggie’s story is known to the reader it seemed a little harder to feel invested in her.  I wasn’t as interested in her until she became an adult and began her life as a married woman because there was a little more to wonder about.  When she left the town where she grew up and started to think for herself she became more interesting and I enjoyed her character more.

What do you think draws Maggie to her first love Gabriel? Do you think they have a healthy relationship?

Nancy: Maggie was attracted to Gabriel for the same reasons that most teenagers fall in love… sexual attraction. But their worlds were so different and infused with the prejudices that were rampant during that time. So while they had a strong physicalconnection, their emotional bond was bound to be fraught with dissonance. As they matured, they were able to overcome the chains that had previously bound them and found solace and safety in each other’s lived experience.

Lesley: I saw their relationship very differently. I saw her seeking out Gabriel as part of a negative pattern. She witnessed her father treat her mother poorly, so on some level she also picked a man who didn’t treat her well.

Penny M: Maggie and Gabriel fall in love when they are both young and she could be making some of her romantic decisions based more on rebelling against her parents than anything else.  Their early conversations about their future are filled with optimism and it’s hard to be sure what might have happened in their relationship if her family hadn’t made the decisions for her.  Their differences in personality could have given them balance and guided them through the hardships they would have faced with a child so early in their lives.

In the book Maggie’s daughter Elodie is sent to an orphanage and later declared mentally ill. During the 1950‘s, orphanages in Quebec were reclassified as mental institutions in order to receive more funding from the government. Where you previously aware of this scheme? What was your response?

Nancy: I wasn’t aware of this act in particular but it is reflective of the historic and on-going abuse of power perpetrated on the masses. Whether we are talking about the residential schools, the Japanese internment camps, the destitution of the working poor or the muzzling of women’s voices, the end result is the same… power and greed win out over fairness and acceptance.

Lesley: I was completely unaware of this event. I never learned about it at school or heard it mentioned on the news. I was completely outraged when I read about it and even more outraged at the fact that it seems to have been quietly buried from Canadian history.

Penny M: I don’t have a memory of reading anything about the Quebec government making these decisions but the idea that a government institution would make conscious decisions that harm the people they are meant to care for while benefitting themselves isn’t surprising to me at all.  And, it is horrible to realize.  I recently read Shelley Wood’s The Quintland Sisters and this novel also explores the role of government in caring for (and possibly exploiting) children and the parallels between the two books are so very interesting.

What role did the nuns who ran the institution play in shaping Elodie’s character?

Nancy: I can’t fathom how the nuns, who were supposedly agents of a loving God, could treat other human beings, especially children, in such a horrific manner. They broke Elodie for the most part but a glimmer of her strength flickered and was able to come to life with the support of those who surrounded her with unconditional love.

Lesley: Some of the nuns were kind to Elodie and some were hideously abusive. Interestingly enough, the nuns that were kind to orphans were punished for it. The abuse is certainly something Elodie carries with her throughout her story and does affect her own view of motherhood.

Penny M: When Elodie was a young orphan she was educated and cared for by the nuns.  Some were benevolent and affectionate and she remembered this nurturing presence throughout her life.  Unfortunately, after the decision was made to transfer orphans to the mental institutions, she was no longer cared for by nuns with the same level of concern for her health and on more than occasion they were deliberately cruel.  Fortunately she was able to maintain some hold on the core good nature she formed in her early years during that horrifying period.

Which part of the book made the largest impression on you?

Nancy: The impact that religious tenets have had in shaping the belief systems that guide society. The belief that unmarried pregnant girls were sinners and deserved to be punished was/is absurd. No girl ever got pregnant alone but they were the ones to bear the onus and the shame. The church has had a devastating impact on women and there is still huge resistance to breaking those chains.

Lesley: For me, the largest impression was the extent of the abuse of the orphans that was province-wide that went on for so long. It only ended after Premier Duplessis died. No one seemed to speak out against it and there really was never any ownership of that abuse.

Penny M: The part of the book that dealt with Elodie’s adult life will always resonate for me – she is further trapped by being a young woman alone in the world just as she finds herself free of the asylum – it seemed heartbreaking after all she had suffered but she doesn’t give up.  I most enjoyed the moments in her first workplace outside of the asylum, made friends and share her personality with customers.  It seemed like the spark that we first saw in the little girl was returning again in a small way there.

To whom would you recommend this book?

Nancy: This would be a great book club choice. It’s not that riveting as far as the writing goes, but the story and the message would encourage much discussion.

Lesley: I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys character driven novels. It is definitely a ‘thinking’ book that has a lot of emotional subject matter. I would encourage anyone who reads it to go and learn more about “Duplessis Orphans.”

Penny M: The book has a storyline that compels you to keep reading so it would appeal to every reader.  I think that it would be enjoyed by readers of any gender as there are multiple characters to identify with (or dislike so, so much).  The romance between Maggie and Gabriel isn’t so overwhelming that it would scare anyone away and I loved the way that the author wove in elements like the seed store, Maggie’s married life and Gabriel’s struggling farm to make the novel complete.  You come away from this it feeling as if you have enjoyed a solidly researched historical novel.  It is a very satisfying read.

 

 

That’s Epic!

When a friend heard I was planning to go to Hawaii, she gushed, “Oh, you have to read James Michener’s book! It will give you such perspective on the history and culture!”

I had already known that James Michener’s Hawaii was long (I had shelved his books early in my library career) but when I discovered how long (937 pages!!), I dug in my heels. I’m an avid reader and often have several books on the go at once, but almost a thousand pages? And in such small print? No way.

I resisted. I even avoided my friend for a while, or at least avoided sharing my reluctance. Finally, I checked out the book and began the first section, which dealt with the geological forces that created the Hawaiian Islands millions of years ago. Written in 1959 with that overly descriptive John Steinbeck style, blah, blah, blah. I guess it’s okay if you like that sort of thing. I do not.

But following that we get into the story of the Polynesian people who set forth to find a new land. The reasons, the dangers, the omens and superstitions. My friend was right; it gets fascinating!

The Polynesians settle, they follow their ancient traditions, they impact the land. Eventually they are followed by missionaries from America who have heard about the heathen people and are moved to leave friends and families and all that they know to bring Christianity to the pagan shores. Though their intentions may be good, some of their attitudes and methods are questionable. Some positive changes are wrought, but there’s also hostility and suspicion.

The Chinese are brought in as labourers for the sugar plantations. The Japanese then come to work the pineapple fields. The Second World War arises and Pearl Harbour is struck. With each new section, Michener introduces the reader to new characters, contexts, historical realities and outcomes. It really is a wonderful initiation for anyone who would visit these isles.

It took me a while to get through (about two months of intermittent reading, actually), but apart from the first section, it was time well spent. In a way, I almost don’t need to go now – I feel like I know Hawaii and it’s not like the trip is cheap.

Ah, who am I kidding? Michener only informed me up to the 1950s. I need to find out what happened next and experience the spirit of aloha for myself!

Other work I read set in Hawaii

The Aloha Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini
Jack London in Paradise by Paul Malmont
Roughing It by Mark Twain (confession: I only read the Hawaiian sections)

Movies and Television Shows I Watched

The Descendants
From Here to Eternity (years ago)
Hawaii Five-0 (if you want to be looking over your shoulder all the time)
Soul Surfer

And if you like epic novels, I highly recommend The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (a former One Book, One Community selection) with settings in Africa, the United States and Canada.

— Susan B.

We Promise You…It’s Great!

Really, everyone likes to read a crime story, preferably one that is completely solved at the end with the killer safely locked away. A classic thriller that lets you feel like all of the loose ends are tied up when you turn the last page and perhaps breathe a sigh of relief that you don’t live in that town. This is the kind of reading pleasure that comes from the 2018 One Book, One Community (OBOC) title, Broken Promise.

Customers are responding to the enjoyment of getting to know new characters, rooting for a small police department under strain as they sort through the clues and then rushing to the end of the book as the author, Linwood Barclay, throws in some surprising plot twists. Some of our customers have enjoyed Broken Promise as their book club choice, some have picked it up so that they can keep up with personal OBOC reading and others have been inspired to try it out because of the posters that they see in the library.

Every season of OBOC brings us fresh book chat from customers. It’s great to hear which character is a favourite after they have finished reading the book, even one that features a grisly murder. This year we’ve heard approval for the main character, David Harwood, who moves back to his hometown in an attempt to get his life back on track for himself and his son. Maybe he is getting the sympathy vote – living with his parents, an unemployed widower, ferrying casseroles around his old home town. We’ve also seen a strong showing of support for Detective Barry Duckworth who is charged with solving the murder at the centre of the novel and several peculiar crimes that pop up as the story moves along.

Did you know that Linwood Barclay published a standalone title related to this series in October of last year? It’s called Parting Shot and gives us all a chance to return to the beleaguered town of Promise Falls. Local vigilantes are taking things into their own hands by running a website to promote the punishment of alleged criminals who have escaped the law. Oh, poor, overworked Detective Duckworth. Maybe he should just give in and eat one of those doughnuts that he is trying so hard to avoid?

Customers have also been enjoying a hearty discussion of the characters that they ‘love to hate’ in this novel. Former investigative reporter David finds himself piecing together the bits and pieces of this case at the request of his well-meaning mother. She is keen for David to get to the bottom of this as his cousin, Marla, is one of the police department’s strongest suspects, and he quickly finds out that there are many targets for his investigation. It is almost impossible to not want to reach into the book and shake some of the people you find involved in the horror surrounding this crime. They seem like they are straight out of a really good 80’s soap opera. Maybe we could start creating a dream cast? Jessica Lange would be fantastic as Marla’s mother, the busy hospital administrator, so obsessed by details. And the psychiatrist, Dr. Sturgess? We should choose someone with a face that makes you wonder if you should fear or trust him. A horrible man.

When you reach the last pages of the book your loathing for the killer will reach new heights. All of the loose ends are tied up, at least as far as the suspicion around David’s cousin Marla is concerned, and you could find yourself setting this book aside and moving on to another if it weren’t for Detective Duckworth and all of the little things that are nagging at him. This is very bad news for town residents but great news for readers and OBOC fans because there are two more books for us to read after this because the crimes continue.

Far From True begins with the murder of four Promise Falls residents at a local drive-in and soon the police link that crime back to those of the previous novel which proves their nasty serial killer theory. The twenty-three has the whole town at risk of being poisoned on May 23rd (Memorial Day weekend) if Duckworth doesn’t get to the bottom of the killer’s latest plot. So much good reading in there. In both of these novels Linwood Barclay continues with his style of multiple storylines and a gallows humour in the dialogue between his law enforcement officers. Something has to balance all of that darkness.

This story of a cozy town that seems safe but is hiding multiple secrets has been resonating with customers. All of these readers will have a chance to come together in September for free author events across the Region.

The event in Waterloo will take place on September 26 at 7:00pm at Knox Church across from the Main Library.

Broken Promise is a fast-paced thriller with more than one character you can cheer for and several you will despise – a safe bet for any customer who wants a good summer read.

— Penny M.