Bildungsroman are meant to offer readers an acceleration of personal development, beginning at a critical turning point in the central character’s young life and continuing to the elusive moment at which they greet adulthood. For Wendi Stewart’s Rebecca Archer, the turning point occurs at age six, when she is rescued by her father from a van that is submerging in a lake, leaving her mother and baby brother to drown. Following their deaths, the reader is no longer confronted with a mere six-year-old, but rather a child consumed by tragedy.
Rebecca grows from childhood to the end of young adolescence over the course of the novel, during which time the girl’s emotional development peaks, then remains stagnant. Stewart’s debut features life events ridden with emotional strife resulting from the absence of a stable family, but doesn’t show considerable development on the part of Rebecca after the initial trauma.
For such a young age, Rebecca displays very adult thoughts. At times, the emotion, actions, and mentality this six-year-old is capable of accessing are unbelievable. This tendency persists over the course of the novel, but becomes more reasonable as Rebecca grows older, especially when her friends are introduced and we see how her mindset influences her social development.
Rebecca’s two best friends, Chuck and Lissie, are saddled with insidious parents. The three teenagers are each survivors, battling their own demons in combination and independently. Together, they manage to stave off the conflicts in their deficient families.
Despite Rebecca’s broken relationship with her father, her role as a daughter (and now only child) clearly exceeds what is typically demanded of a young girl. Although she resents her father for the denatured man he has become, she cares enough about him to take on the role of parent and bear responsibility for both of them. She may not do it lovingly, but in her own way, she ends up saving him.
Stewart’s story reflects self-discovery in the midst of suffering. Meadowlark is a novel of tragedy infused with hope and survival.