Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Review: Mistik Lake

Mistik Lake by Martha Brooks
3 stars

Reasons for reading: I wanted a Canadian author for Canada Day for the Every Month is a Holiday Challenge and the lake setting sounded summery

Summary (from School Library Journal): In a prologue, readers learn that in 1981, three teenagers died while joyriding on frozen Mistik Lake in Manitoba. Sally was the sole survivor. The story then alternates between Odella, Sally's oldest daughter, beginning when she is nine; Sally's Aunt Gloria, Odella's beloved great-aunt; and, later, Odella's boyfriend, Jimmy. Summers are spent at Mistik Lake, where Gloria has a cottage that she never uses. There, Odella, a perceptive girl, becomes attuned to her mother's sadness and alcoholism. Sally leaves her husband and daughters for an Icelandic filmmaker when Odella is 15, and the devastated family struggles to function without her. However, they continue to vacation at the lake, where Odella meets Jimmy, leading to a romance that helps sustain her in the aftermath of her mother's sudden death. Much of the mood is pensive as characters suffer but eventually break through. Gloria, whose homosexuality has been kept a secret, eventually brings her partner to meet Sally's girls; and Odella starts to forgive her mother and begin an adult life. Jumps back and forth in time and perspective make reading somewhat bewildering at times, but they do allow more intimate characterization. Smooth writing contributes much to a story that will enable readers to care about Odella's coming of age.

First line: "On a stone-cold night in 1981 a carload of teenagers went joyriding out on frozen Mistik Lake."

Favourite part: Odella's romance with Jimmy - he's a really lovely boy.

Pet peeve: The word nipple was used far too often! It just kept (sorry) popping up and I found it irksome for some reason.

My thoughts: This book seemed to me to have a little too much going on. I'm not really a fan of back-and-forthing and there was a bit too much of that. The whole subplot with Gloria, both her involvement with the family and her secret of being a lesbian, just seemed tacked on. Apart from the fact that she owned the cabin and was one of the people who knew the mother's secret revealed at the end, she didn't really seem neccessary.

I did like the way the family relationships were portrayed - the father and the sisters all really loved each other, but they weren't perfect. They got annoyed with each other, acted out, suffered together and separately, but remained a solid family, even when things got really hard.

The town of Mistik Lake and its inhabitants play a big role. Many of its residents are of Icelandic descent and that adds even more to the small-town feeling of community. In the afterword, Brooks describes her family's settlement in Manitoba from Iceland - I wasn't aware there had been such a large settlement of them in that part of Canada, so that was interesting to read about. As the scene of her accident, Odella's mother feels sad about the town, but its people still see her and her daughters as their own.

There is a fair bit of sex in this book, so it's definitely for older readers. But the sex isn't too graphic and handled well (apart from my pet peeve above), both the sex Odella has because she's grieving and the loving relationship she has with Jimmy.

Overall, a well-written coming-of-age story that explores the connections between the past and the present and between family members, especially sisters.

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

OK....I'm still laughing about the word nipple, but otherwise sounds like an enjoyable read! Nice review!

I've read a few YA books lately that seem to fall into the "older" reader category. Sometimes I wonder how books get classified the way they do.