Sunday, April 28, 2024

Weekend Review: The Go-Between


The Go-Between / Jennifer Maruno
Toronto, ON : Red Deer Press, c2024.
208 p.

This middle grade novel is set in British Columbia in the mid 1920s. Sumi is the younger daughter of a Japanese family living in Vancouver. She's curious and energetic and wants to be a journalist. Her older sister Yoshi wants to be a dressmaker, and has just had a chance to enter a summer school that will give her a leg up on getting into the fashion course she wants to study. But Yoshi has also been asked to take on a summer job as a housemaid in remote Gibson's Landing to make some money for the family and for her education. 

Sumi comes up with a plan; she'll take the job so that Yoshi is free to study, and, Sumi will also convince their wealthy Aunt and Uncle to cover the registration fees for Yoshi. She cleverly does all this, and heads off to Gibson's Landing, a small settlement on an island. It's not at all what she expected. She sleeps in a canvas roofed bunkie in the yard, she is the underling to a bossy and fairly lazy housekeeper, and encounters racism and accusations of theft in her job. 

However, it's not all bad. She also meets a local Japanese family with a market garden, and befriends the son who is her age. Her personality is strong enough that she is able to withstand the difficult moments she experiences, and to speak up when she feels she has to. She is helpful to the sickly wife of the doctor she works for, and finds respect for her work ethic eventually, even from the crabby housekeeper. 

There are moments of crisis and drama -- a hurricane, a strike at the local cannery that she's secretly involved with, accusations of theft -- but as a middle grade novel nothing feels too dangerous, and Sumi comes through everything safe and sound. I thought that the issues of racism and classism were brought up really naturally and in a way that younger readers would understand and feel.  

The writing is clear and the setting is vibrantly evoked. Sumi makes a great heroine, as she has determination and is a clever girl. Her relationship with Yoshi was a delight also; their letters are shared, with Yoshi's progress at the sewing school outlined, and a colourful apron that she makes and sends to Sumi plays a role in the story, too. This was a chance discovery, and one that I really enjoyed. The little extra bit of sewing content was an added plus! 

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