Quill and Quire

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Carving My Name

by Mary-Kate McDonald

This collection of short stories for young adults by Mary-Kate McDonald finds all protagonists in a state of emotional pain. Jason discovers from a third party that his best friend is moving away. As her mother’s schizophrenia deepens, Amanda’s immature father leaves her with her grandmother. While Maybelle helps to drown a kitten, her sick mother dies. Lucy finds her boyfriend necking with another girl. Janine’s ex-boyfriend admits to her and himself he is gay. Deena must comfort her little sister when their estranged father shows up in a restaurant with someone else’s kid. In “Bud,” Francine faces the prospect of moving away with her mother, leaving her beloved grandfather behind. Nina must mediate between her widowed father and the boy he disapproves of. Tyler copes with his father’s new wife and her child.

This is a first book, but McDonald has previously distinguished herself by winning first prize in both the Canadian Author and Bookman Student Writing Contest and the Canadian Authors’ Association Annual Short Story Contest. Her writing is confident and skillful, displaying considerable talent. But McDonald’s work would be stronger if she varied the emotional tone. In many stories, this suffering is alleviated by moments of redemption. Faced with the loss of his friend, Jason finds unexpected pleasure in the adoration of a young hockey fan. Lucy discovers her best friend may be a better boyfriend than the jerk she thought she loved. Janine finds Andrew’s sexual orientation does not break the bond between them. Both Deena and Tyler take comfort in a younger sibling. But overall, the level of angst is set very high. In “Bud,” lonely Francine’s life is made bearable by the company of her quirky grandfather and misfit dog. These and other flashes of humour show McDonald does not have to confine her writing to minor keys. Perhaps the success of this collection will encourage her to expand her repertoire of expression.