Title: On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light
Publisher: ECW Press
Author: Cordelia Strube
Release: Spring 2016
If I were able to include my favourite excerpts from this novel in this review, I worry that my review would be nearly half the length of the book itself. I have no idea how this is my first time reading Strube’s writing, but it definitely will not be my last. In OTSOD,TIL Strube masterfully breathes life into her dynamic characters, allowing us to feel love, hate, and confusion with them.
The novel’s protagonist is the ambitious and artistic 11-year-old Harriet whose tough-as-nails bravado often eclipses her youth to the point that the other characters, and even the reader, sometimes forget to treat her like a child. She splits her time between her mixed media art projects and the various errands she runs for the senior residents in her apartment building, earning money for her grand escape to Algonquin Park. The story follows her struggle to navigate her complicated relationships with her parents, stepparents and, most movingly, her younger brother Irwin who suffers from hydrocephalus and whose undying love for Harry is the epitome of childlike innocence.
In this piercing novel, Strube creates a world out of things discarded. What seems to fuel Harry’s art projects is her knack for creating something meaningful from the remnants of other things, other lives, other families. Its as though she sees herself reflected in the forgotten objects and seeks redemption through her projects and through the small family she constructs out of the residents of the Shangrila.
Through Harry and Irwin, the reader is reminded of the heartbreaking discovery of childhood: that parents are not the perfect heroes that we sometimes need them to be. Sometimes they are flawed, sometimes they are damaged people trying to recover from their own childhoods, as injurious as that recovery can be to those around them.
Thought-provoking and emotional, this novel is a must-read.