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Split

by Lori Weber

Sometimes the young adult category seems unnecessarily arbitrary, as with Quebec writer Lori Weber’s second novel, where the only thing that’s YA is the age of the protagonist. Weber’s spare, sombre, poignant coming-of-age story can be enjoyed and appreciated by teen and adult readers alike.

Set in a working-class Montreal neighbourhood in 1978 – a world and a way of life evoked by Weber with photo-realistic physicality – the novel is narrated by 17-year-old Sandra, who’s in limbo between adolescence and adulthood. Six months earlier, Sandra’s mother simply took off, leaving her in the care, so to speak, of her withdrawn father. Sandra’s father, whose solitary drinking has increased since the loss of his factory job and his wife, seems to open up only in the company of his former co-worker Yurek, a lonely Polish immigrant. With dry humour, Weber portrays Sandra’s irritation with Yurek, who acts like the family’s fairy godmother, urging Sandra to be sympathetic to her father, and to look for her mother. After Yarek hands her a map marked with the places that her mother could be, Sandra begins the search on a whim. One location is the home of her mother’s friend Margie. Margie gets Sandra a job as a chambermaid in the hotel where she works, which Sandra believes holds the key to her mother’s whereabouts.

Much of the subtle, haunting power of the novel comes from Sandra’s reticent, wary, understated narration. Roiling under the surface, her emotions are all the more forceful for being inexpressible. With deft precision and compassionate understanding, Weber vividly brings to life her flawed, decent, confused characters.