Trying to understand another person’s perspective is a hard task to do in today’s fast-paced world. We are so wrapped up in our own issues and concerns that we forget to take into consideration other people’s feelings and views. Yet they do have them and ignoring them causes pain and hurt. Cordelia Strube refreshes readers that other people besides themselves exist in the world through her novel On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light and it’s lead character, 11-year-old Harriet.
Just this morning, her mother blamed her for losing the plastic pitcher for bagged milk. “Why can’t you put things back in their place?” When it turned out Harriet’s little brother used the pitcher to shower his plastic animals, her mother didn’t apologize to Harriet. Or scold Irwin. There’s no doubt in Harriet’s mind she’d be better off without her little brother. She should have snuffed him when she had the chance, after they took him out of the incubator and handed him to her, all red and wrinkled, with his stretched head and veins pulsing weakly under his see-through skin.
“Say hi to your brother,” her mother said. She no longer looked like her mother because she’d stopped eating and sleeping when Irwin was out of her. The furry-lipped nurse who’d helped Harriet put on the sterile gloves said, “Your brother is a miracle baby.” Harriet didn’t see why.
No doubt one of the best reads I have come across this year. Eleven-year-old Harriet is an old soul surrounded a group of immature adults around her. She is forced to create art in order to express herself, which in turn is dismissed even further by those around her. So she decides to plan to escape. She runs errands for seniors who live in her run-down apartment building (Humorously enough named Shrangrila) to earn money to manage her escape. But her efforts bind her down deeper and deeper, frustrating her more. There is only one person who truly sees the wonder and depth of Harriet- her sickly little brother Irwin.
Harriet pours Irwin’s Cheerios and reads him Curious George even though she thinks he’s too old for it. He chimes in whenever the Man in the Yellow Hat appears. Harriet’s explained to Irwin that she needs to buy more paint before she can paint him with wings, but he doesn’t want her to leave the apartment without him. As usual Gennedy is flicking urgently through the newspaper, as though it’s imperative that he read it and that the mere knowledge of world events makes him important. When the paper’s late he gets hysterical, like life on planet Earth will end if he doesn’t read about it.
“Is Mum getting up today?” Harriet asks, fearing her mother has relapsed into smoking-in-bathrobe mode.
“Your mother went jogging.”
“Wowee wowee!” Irwin bounces. “I want to go jogging. Buck said he’d take me and show me one-arm and clap push-ups.”
Gennedy looks over the paper at him. “When did you see Buck?”
“Yesterday, when me and Mummy got freezies. He let me steer his truck.”
“It was parked,” Harriet explains.
“Oh, so you’re in on this too? Am I the only one who doesn’t know about the rendezvous with Buck? What kind of name is Buck anyway?
“What kind of name is Gennedy?” Harriet says.
“Excuse me? Is there something wrong with my name?”
“Shouldn’t it be Kennedy, like, what’s with the G?”
“Your small-mindedness never ceases to amaze me, Harriot.”
Irwin waves his spoon. “No fighting.”
“You’re right, champ. Let’s do something fun today. Just you and me.”
“Harry’s going to paint me with angel wings.”
Her brother’s inability to keep a secret is another thing she can’t stand about him. “I have to get paints first.”
Any book that makes a reader ponder and feel empathy after they are 20 pages into the story is a sign of a great read. And Strube doesn’t hold anything back – be it thoughts, words, emotions. A reader will almost laugh, cry or shout out in anger at the same scene at times.
Gennedy is lurking in the kitchen when Harriet returns buy says nothing, just stares at her with eyes dulled by life’s disappointments and she knows she has been one of them. She tries not to care, although his loathing has started to burn holes in her. He shakes his head slowly and goes back to drinking milk. This is another thing she can’t stand about him. What kind of grown man drinks milk?
“So tell me about your little art projects,” he says. “What’s the glued garbage supposed to represent, you angst?”
“I’m going to be now.”
“Of course you are.”
She lies very still in he bed, pretending she’s Tutankhamun in his tomb, surrounded by treasures. Uma, when she was till trying to impress Harriet, took her to King Tut’s exhibit at the AGO. That’s when Harriet learned that nobody knew about Tutankhamun’s tomb because Tutankhamun was a runt pharaoh with one leg shorter than the other. Bigger pharaoh’s with legs the same length had bigger tombs that were raided for hundreds of yeats while Tutankhamun lay forgotten and undisturbed. A man with BO beside her said, “The little twerp slipped under the radar.” This is what Harriet will do at Lost Coin Lake.
No doubt, On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light by Cordelia Strube is one of the best reads of this year. It is enlightening, funny and heartbreaking. Anything any serious reader could hope for in a book.