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Book Reviews

Marie-claire: A Season of Sorrow

by Kathy Stinson

Penguin’s popular Our Canadian Girl series is made up of easy-to-read (perhaps too easy) dramatic adventure stories focusing on the life and times of spirited 10-year-old girls at key historical junctures. They’re aimed at stimulating the interest of readers, especially reluctant ones, in Canadian history and historical fiction.

Penguin has just released four new sequels in the series: Emily: Disaster at the Bridge by Julie Lawson; Penelope: The Glass Castle by Sharon E. McKay; Rachel: The Maybe House by Lynne Kositsky; and Kathy Stinson’s Marie-Claire: A Season of Sorrow. There are two sorts of sequels here: those in which the historical period is more or less a backdrop for a character-driven storyline, and those where historical events drive the storyline. Kathy Stinson’s Season of Sorrow, set during – and driven by – the devastating Montreal smallpox epidemic of 1885, exemplifies the latter type.

Stinson vividly details the textures of life for Marie-Claire and her family during the epidemic. She does a terrific job setting the historical scene and dramatically embodying the religious and social issues of the times in the personal crises of the characters. Marie-Claire’s emotions are more strongly evoked in this book than in her previous one, but she still comes across as a historical exemplar rather than a character with an unique personality and point of view.

In contrast, The Glass House, Sharon E. McKay’s Cinderella-like tale of Penelope’s difficult adjustments to living with her high-society Grandmama in Montreal, is a comic and touching example of a character-driven sequel.Wonderfully lively and believable, Penelope’s story is more engaging because it draws readers in.