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One Year in Coal Harbour

by Polly Horvath

It’s been more than a decade since Polly Horvath’s Everything on a Waffle introduced the world to 11-year-old Primrose Squarp and the quirky inhabitants of the fictionalized West Coast town of Coal Harbour. In the original Newbery Honor and Mr. Christie’s Award–winning book, Primrose’s mother goes out in search of the girl’s fisherman father during a violent storm. When neither returns, everyone except Primrose presumes them to be dead.

By the time her parents make an unlikely reappearance a year later, Primrose’s circle of caregivers has grown to include her uncle Jack, foster parents Bert and Evie, and Kate, a restaurant owner who has been teaching Primrose how to cook. (In both books, each chapter ends with a recipe.) All of these characters continue to play important roles in the sequel.

One Year in Coal Harbour picks up shortly after the events of its predecessor. During her year of orphanhood, Primrose faced a fair amount of ostracism from her peers due to her stubborn adherence to the belief that her parents were still alive. (She’s also a bit precocious, but that’s part of her charm.) As a result, she feels lonely and desperately wishes she had a best friend closer to her own age. With the arrival of Bert and Evie’s new foster child, a 14-year-old boy named Ked, Primrose’s wish seems to have been granted.

As with her earlier book, Horvath creates a vivid portrait of the town and those who live there. The tone is refreshingly forthright; not only has Primrose’s voice aged appropriately, but the adults in her life treat her like the bright, inquisitive girl she is, never talking down to her or hiding the messy realities of life, be they dead dogs, clear-cut forests, or the complexities of meaningful relationships. By extension, Horvath bestows the same consideration on her readers.

It may have taken Horvath many years to revisit Coal Harbour, but the result is well worth the wait.