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Facing the Sun

by Janice Lynn Mather

Janice Lynn Mather’s second novel for young adults opens with an altercation between a group of teenagers on Pinder Point, one of the few Nassau beaches still open to locals living adjacent to the water. A stranger alleges the beach has been closed and violence ensues – setting into motion a string of events that will change the lives of four girls and their families.

There’s Eve, the dutiful pastor’s daughter, whose father is deteriorating from an illness her parents refuse to discuss. Her best friend, Faith, is a talented dancer whose mother is descending into dementia. KeeKee is a poet, whose estranged father is involved in the proposed development that would turn the beach into a resort. KeeKee’s best friend, Nia, will do anything to escape the domination of her overbearing mother. Linking them all is Toons, KeeKee’s brother, who goes missing after a fire destroys the local church.

Alternating narration among four different perspectives is risky, and some sections are conspicuously stronger than others. Mather’s first novel, Learning to Breathe, was a Governor General’s Literary Award finalist and a Junior Library Guild selection; her follow-up is ambitious in scope, but there are moments when it feels that she is perhaps trying to cram in too much.

That said, her writing soars in descriptive passages: “Pinder Street totes soft breezes and ocean birdcalls. There are stray dogs and dusty children darting between yards, dub blaring from a speeding car. Conversations blast out tinny from phone speakers; people yell back. For a place far east of everywhere, our road beats fast.” In the straw market, women call after tourists in voices that “are cultivated, sunny and high,” but when the foreigners are out of earshot, “their tongues revert to the rhythms I know, gossipy, cackling, confessing, sighing sounds.”

Depictions of adult characters are also nuanced, with grown-up deceits, neglect, and frailty sensitively unpacked. Mather combines familiar YA themes of finding one’s voice and first love with the sometimes uncomfortable balance between haves and have-nots in a gentrifying landscape.

Ultimately, this is a story about family and community, told with lyrical frankness and compassion. It’s a different kind of late-summer beach read, and a welcome one.