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Last Summer in Louisbourg

by Claire Mowat

After winning an essay contest about Canadian history, Andrea Baxter is bound for Cape Breton and a summer job at the Fortress of Louisbourg. Staff at this historic site re-enact life as it was lived by the original French settlers in 1744. They dress in 18th-century fashion and are trained to use the tools and skills of that period. For Andrea, it is a chance to go back in time and to revisit the East Coast.

Last Summer in Louisbourg is Claire Mowat’s third book about Andrea and her travels away from her Ontario home. In The Girl From Away and The French Isles, she visited the family homestead in Newfoundland. This is the first time Andrea has chosen her destination, however, and her enthusiasm for the living museum is infectious.

Not long after her arrival, Andrea and her roommate are asked to play bit parts in a film that is being shot at the fortress. The fast-paced world of movie-making contrasts with the historical surroundings, reflecting Andrea’s own inner struggles. At the age of 15, she moves awkwardly between the world of childhood and adulthood. She is old enough for responsibility, but still easily carried away by rosy summertime fantasies.

The novel contains a fair amount of historical information, but Mowat doesn’t weigh it down with facts. The story is more concerned with a realistic portrayal of Andrea’s experiences. She develops a crush on an older member of the film crew and allows herself to believe he feels the same. Her relationship with her roommate is strained when Andrea is given a bigger part in the movie. There is a terrible moment when the boat she is being filmed in is lost in the fog and begins drifting out to sea. Throughout the book, Andrea’s fantasies keep getting interrupted by the reality of decisions to be made and their consequences.

The final chapters take an unexpected turn when Andrea’s mother suddenly arrives on the scene and reveals a secret from her past. There are no obvious hints that the surprise is coming and this has a mixed effect. Unfortunately, Mowat doesn’t leave herself a lot of room to deal with this plot twist and the novel ends with a lot of unanswered questions. The reader is left somewhat dissatisfied, but hopeful for another summer.