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One Year Commencing

by Kathy Stinson

Three little words – “one year commencing” – turn Alison’s world upside-down. The words, cited in a custody order, obligate 12-year-old Al, who has always lived with her mom, to live for a year with her dad. The order states further that, at the end of the year, Al will determine where and, therefore, with whom she will live.

Kathy Stinson, popular picture book and juvenile non-fiction author, sets a good stage for her second YA novel. Al’s protective mom is an artist who lives on a tight budget in comfortable clutter in Alberta. Al’s dad works in real estate, is financially well off, and lives tidily in Toronto. Both parents love Al and want her to be happy. Al loves both parents and works hard to please them equally. The court order presents Al with a terrible dilemma. How can she choose one parent over the other?

One Year Commencing is rooted in reality, organized for impact, and written for easy consumption. Suspense builds as Stinson takes readers through a month-by-month account of the ups and downs of Al’s new life and her handling of the pressures associated with her relocation. Readers will zip through the book’s 47 short chapters. Stinson’s casual writing style lends itself well to dialogue and she plays wisely to that capability. When Al isn’t talking to other characters face to face, on the telephone, or through letters, she is often “think-talking” quite entertainingly to herself.

While the characters in One Year Commencing are interesting, few of them are evolved enough to be truly satisfying. Al has moments of being too apathetic to be truly sympathetic. Her father has a jarring moment of character inconsistency. Her distant mother never becomes a strong presence. An intuitive teacher, a quirky art instructor, and a female colleague of Al’s dad are all intriguing and beg for greater page play than they receive.

Literary references appear occasionally throughout. The biblical story of Solomon’s wisdom is a wonderful parallel for the tug of war Al’s experiencing. The use of silly letter sign-offs from Yours Till Niagara Falls is another particularly good fit for the story. Less fitting are the numerous contemporary social issues Stinson parachutes into the book. Most are token grandstanding.

One Year Commencing is a good second novel and a worthwhile read about the difficulties many children face when their living arrangements are determined by custody orders. Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 will likely enjoy it most.