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Becoming Ruby

by Kathy Stinson

Unless you’re paying close attention, you might miss the fact that this perceptive coming-of-age novel takes place more than 35 years ago. One tip-off is that most moms today (in kids’ books, anyway) don’t chain-smoke, and when they’re out of cigarettes, they can’t buy a new pack with a $2 bill. But some things don’t change, like parents not wanting kids to grow up too fast, and kids learning that change can be painful.

Ruby of the book’s title has always been called by her middle name, Nan, or worse, Nanny, like a goat. Now that she’s nearly 16, she’d rather be Ruby – clear, bright, and valuable. Her mother, who’s having a hard time letting her daughter make her own decisions, resists the name change. Tension rises as Ruby gets her first boyfriend, a sweet guy named Daniel. Her mother will do anything to keep the romance from following its natural course. But why?

Stinson, an accomplished children’s writer living near Guelph, Ontario, does a great job on Ruby’s family and her relationships with her father, older brother, and little sisters. There’s some lovely, evocative writing, like the opening scene of Ruby in a white bathing suit, swimming at dusk with three boys. There’s also some frank writing about sex. Around the edges of this engaging girl-meets-boy, girl-loses-boy story is a darker one of adult disappointment. Ruby’s beloved grandmother gets cancer. Her mother has surgery. But there’s something else happening, something that has made Ruby’s mother an angry woman who passes on her hurt to her children. When the book ends, all too quickly, Ruby has worked some things out, and some secrets remain secrets. But who was that guy in the photo in Ruby’s mother’s bureau drawer anyway?