Friday, April 10, 2009

Staff Picks - The Valley by Gayle Friesen

I picked up this book, The Valley by Gayle Friesen, because I was in the mood to read something different than I would normally choose.  

Friesen is a Canadian author of young adult novels living in BC. This is the story of a woman, Gloria, who returns home after a long absence. With her teenage daughter, she visits her parents' farm in a small closely knit Mennonite community for the first time in almost 20 years.

While not a slow reading book, this is a story that slowly reveals its secrets. We learn early on that Gloria's twin brother Jake dies young and tragically. It is understandable that this is a devastating event, but it is not clear why it would cause Gloria to leave and wait so long to return to her family and hometown.

This is a story about relationships between mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters and old friends. It is also a story about religion and faith. I'm not sure that this was the author's intention, but the message that I initially took away from this book was the devastating effect that unquestioned religion can have on a person's life. Then later, when Gloria questions her mother, and asks what if when you die you find out you are wrong, her mother replies, "Then I will have wasted my life being content."

At times sad, at times funny, this is a pleasant story overall. My only complaint is about the conversations between Gloria and her brother Jake. They seemed to me to be overly stilted and precocious. Not at all typical of how teenage siblings would normally interact.

Another book that came to mind when I was reading The Valley was A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. It is a story about the relationships between adult daughters, their fathers and each other. While the story is grittier, the rural setting and farm life is similar.

A small town's story is often told through a person returning after a period of time away. In Garden Spells by Sarah Allen, a woman returns (flees) to her
 hometown and her estranged sister to begin her life anew. It has mystical qualities that make it different from The Valley, but again a pleasant quick read about
 families overcoming their past traumas to forge new relationships.

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