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The Belonging Place

by Jean Little

Once again, Jean Little, author of more than 20 books for children, has reached into the rich vein of her personal and incidental history for a tale of an orphan’s search for a place to belong. The story begins in Aberdeen, Scotland, when three-year-old Elspet Mary Iveson’s mother is killed on her way to the grocer. Elspet laments that she didn’t even watch her mother go.

Elspet’s mysterious seafaring Da appears but only to deposit her with her mother’s kin deep in the Scottish countryside. The big-hearted and loving Gordon clan welcome her as their own and Elspet heals in the embrace of her boisterous extended family in the village of Glen Buchan. But five years later, Elspet is unmoored and forced to leave her belonging place when the Gordon men are lured by the wondrous promise of Upper Canada. They set out ahead of the women to clear a homestead in what turns out to be Little’s own home in southern Ontario.

The journey is gruesome. Little expertly evokes our senses on the ship, steamboat, wagon, and finally, on foot. The rigours of homesteading are made immediate as she weaves in interesting details about life in the Ontario bush. We feel the sting of nettles in a way that is curiously absent in the author’s depiction of Scotland. There is also a trace of impatience in the earlier chapters. The story is recounted in flashback by 16-year-old Elspet. Even so, she possesses such a singular understanding of her world that it sometimes rings more expedient than real, as it does when she meets her Gordon grandparents and can somehow see through their brutal severity.

As always, Little rewards us with effortless dialogue and a brightly effective narration. Beloved Granny Ross isn’t just wrinkled; she has “a face like a walnut.” There is no big painful climax, no hugely dramatic resolution. This is a gentle story of the many little hills Elspet has to climb on her way to finding her heart’s home. The Belonging Place stands as a fine entry for all of Jean Little’s many fans.


Reviewer: Teresa Toten

Publisher: Viking Canada


Price: $19.99

Page Count: 128 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-670-87593-7

Released: May

Issue Date: 1997-5


Age Range: ages 8–12