The Canning Season
by Polly Horvath
This book won the 2003 National Book Award (U.S.) in the young readers category. Reading it is a moving experience, packed with fun and thought-provoking stories within a larger, equally strong story. Looking back over a long life together in the lonely Maine woods, the non-identical twin Menuto sisters are suddenly forced to think about the future though they may live to see little of it when a teenage girl-relative named Ratchet comes to stay with them for the summer. Then a totally different girl named Harper also drops in to stay. As the summer goes by, a strange sort of family structure develops between these very different people, bound together by compassion, pain, and the exhausting labors of the blueberry-canning season.
Each girl has been essentially abandoned by the selfish mother-figure in her life. Such a painful experience may seem like an odd background for a childrens book, but it is relevant to what a lot of kids experience in the real world. And in the memories shared by the old ladies themselves complete opposites, yet devoted to each other you see more of the same mix of outrageous fun and hard, cold reality.
Indeed, its not easy to recommend this as a childrens book, because it veers into gruesome imagery and adult language. But these days, many childrens lives might not be deemed suitable for young readers. And this book seems to gather in all the possibilities of a girls life from young girl to old girl in the bear-infested northern woods where there are too many loggers, not enough doctors, phone lines that can take incoming calls but cant call out; and where the only connection to the outside world may be a car that no one quite knows how to drive. It does all this without sickening sentimentality, but in a convincing way that leaves you hopeful at the end.
Recommended Age: 14+
If you would like to contact Robbie, you may do so here.