The Shore Girl by Fran Kimmel
My rating: 4/5 stars
Rebee Shore’s life is fragmented. She’s forever on the move, ricocheting around Alberta, guided less than capably by her dysfunctional mother Elizabeth. “The Shore Girl” follows Rebee from her toddler to her teen years as she grapples with her mother’s fears and addictions, and her own desire for a normal life. Through a series of narrators–family, friends, teachers, strangers, and Rebee herself–her family’s dark past, and the core of her mother’s despair, are slowly revealed
The first sentence in the synopsis is bang on. Rebee Shore’s life is fragmented. So was my reading experience. So is this review.
I’ve been paralyzed for six months in writing this review. The reasons are uninteresting, but most come down to the fact that I don’t quite know what to make of the book. I enjoyed it, but my reactions were a little strange. Like how I didn’t cry while reading, despite many tragic circumstances, but cried suddenly and heartily upon finishing the last page. Because I was going to miss the characters? Because I had a bad feeling about the main character, Rebee? I think it was supposed to be a optimistic ending, but I had this sinking feeling…
I can tell you now that I’m all grown up, that I don’t need a mother to keep me safe. That might be a lie.
There were a few other parts that I think were supposed to be optimistic but gave me red flags. Mostly to do with men. The first was a mix up in which Rebee’s aunt walks in on her boyfriend bathing a six-year-old Rebee and gets the wrong idea… she freaks, and he walks away. We learn about the legacy of abuse and the volatility of Rebee’s family, but am I the only one who thought she had the right idea all along? Later, a teenaged Rebee and her mom meet Jake, a drifter who becomes a stabilizing force in Rebee’s life (and vice versa.) Jake is supposed to be a good guy. That’s not just a feeling, Kimmel discussed it at a reading I attended last year, before I read the book. But I always felt weird when he was around, and especially when hearing the story from his perspective. Why is this guy so interested in Rebee, anyway? And, as Rebee’s mom asks,
“Why is it that when a man wants to find out about a woman, he asks about her men?”
I felt protective of Rebee. I wanted these guys to back off a bit. Or a lot. I wanted Rebee and her mom and her aunt to make up and go live in a women-only commune or something.
The synopsis says we follow Rebee from toddlerhood to adolescence, but we don’t really. We get snapshots from differing perspectives, and a new narrator for each chapter. We get a few chapters from Rebee. We get her family, teacher, neighbour, randoms (Jake.) Some of the chapters feel more like stand-alone short stories, the teacher’s in particular. Fragmented. Like real memories.
Roll someone’s nail between your fingers, it brings back a slice of somewhere you’ve been. A whisper, the smell of oranges, fridge noises. Somewhere forgotten, but it’s out there somewhere.
That reading last year was a double header – we heard from Kimmel and from Meredith Quartermain, author of Rupert’s Land. Quartermain talked about how much of the book had been pulled from memories of her own childhood. Someone asked, did The Shore Girl come from childhood memory, too? Fran laughed and said no, she couldn’t remember a thing about her childhood. That she has to make everything up, because her memory’s not good enough. Maybe that allows her to capture the randomness of memory, of what seems significant, what rises to the top and what falls away.
The one person we never hear from is Rebee’s mom, Harmony. She doesn’t get a chapter. I wish she had, but understand why she didn’t. Her absence is at the heart of the story. That doesn’t mean there’s a hole in Rebee’s life or that she’s less than a whole person. But the absence is a always there.
Before I even know of this place, I wanted to know if her leaving it – her running – had something to do with me.
The other characters circle around Harmony and while they never quite get at her, we grow to empathize with her, and with Rebee, and everyone else. Wasn’t there some study that said reading makes you more empathetic? I find those studies eye-roll inducing, but I think there’s something to it with this book.
There’s been another round of “adults shouldn’t read YA” of late (and this won’t even date the review, because isn’t there always?) and while The Shore Girl isn’t YA, it is certainly concerned with a teenage girl, and coming of age, and independence. It’s complex, it’s ambiguous, it’s ambitious. It’s what YA should/could be. I would love to see this book in the hands of a teenage girl. I would have loved to have read it when I was 16. I’m still really glad I did at 33. Empathy is a good thing at any age.
Thank you to NeWest Press for the review copy, which didn’t make it to me before I’d bought my own. I’d give away my extra copy now, but I think I’ll hang onto it for a bigger giveaway in the near future. Stay tuned.
One of the reasons I didn’t review this book for so long is this beautiful review by Another Book Blog. And his interview with the author is the reason I didn’t ask for an interview. I felt like the best questions had been asked.