I took a plethora of notes while reading Mix Hart’s SK-based young adult novel, Queen of the Godforsaken, because there’s a lot going on across the 293 pages it encompasses. The fictional driver of this story, Lydia, is a veritable storm-cloud of teenage hormones – part girl who still plays with Barbies, part woman who feels responsible for her entire family’s welfare – and she might do or say just about anything.
Feisty Lydia; her year-younger and equally sarcastic sister, Victoria (Lydia alternately considers Victoria her best and only friend and also gives her the moniker “Prissy Tits”); their pot-smoking and under-employed professor father; and their dangerously-depressed mother move from Vancouver to the paternal homestead on the Carlton Trail near Batoche, and the adjustment’s hard on everyone.
First, there’s the weather. Hart ably details the brutal prairie winters, where eyelids have to be pried apart, snowstorms make prisons of homes, and even the family dog tries to avoid being outdoors. The physical cold parallels Lydia’s temperament as she navigates trials at home and school in nearby “Hicksville”. Lydia, the “ice queen,” warms to few people. Case in point: both she and Victoria refer to their parents by their first names, and teachers – when the girls do go to school – are ridiculed.
The cold and imprisonment are prominent themes. Lydia’s father keeps the house at ridiculously low temperatures, and the characters are constantly trying to warm via toques, dressing in layers, and building wood fires in the basement furnace, where six mummified woodpeckers explain the home’s “smell of death”. Through Lydia’s lens we see “urine-coloured walls,” and easily imagine the lingering smell in her bedroom – formerly used as a chicken coop.
Lydia feels school “is a prison encased in barbed wire”. The sky is “prison grey”. Back-to-school shopping is done at Saskatoon’s Army and Navy – an iconic store, now closed – where the girls select their “prison uniforms”. A smoke ring “hovers, like a noose,” over her father’s head.
The sisters are both outsiders and originals: they collect bottled shrew and mouse skeletons, Victoria veritably lives in an old pink housecoat, and the pair often hide out in their frigid home’s unfinished basement. But despite herself, Lydia also starts to appreciate things about the prairie: she learns that the first coyote yip “means it’s almost eleven,” and her iciness begins to melt when she connects with a local hockey player. Love, however, also proves another storm front: “If this is love, I hate it,” she says.
There’s plenty of humour here to help balance the tone, ie: when Lydia’s nominated as a school Snow Queen finalist, she says “… it is sort of flattering, I guess – like winning best pig at the country fair.”
The novel and its mercurial central character are best summed up by Lydia herself. “No one could possibly understand what I am going through,” she thinks. Any teenager who has felt the same – and show me one who hasn’t! – might be well served by reading this.
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM