I didn’t know Yes, and Back Again was going to be that kind of book. I picked it up in the evening, intending to read only the first ten pages or so, then planned to devote the following day to it. Well, I finally put it down on page 110, and only because it was hours past my bedtime. This novel swept me up like the roaring South Saskatchewan River snatches debris off banks in the springtime.
Saskatoon writer, artist, and educator Sandy Marie Bonny has crafted an ambitious story that melds history and the present, addresses cultures (specifically the Métis), and makes friends of wildly disparate people. There’s also a strong Tim Horton’s presence, text messaging, online police bulletins, and Facebook: talk about keeping it real.
Bonny unrolls two parallel stories: one concerns a young high school math and Life Skills teacher, Neil, and his writer\researcher wife, Tanis. They’re tired but excited. They’ve just purchased an old home on Saskatoon’s west side (Avenue L), and their daily life includes making the former rental house livable (ie: removing the wheelchair ramp, “odour-busting” the basement with a product called “Piss-off Pet Stain Remover,” using a borrowed Shop-Vac to suck up mouse droppings), and meeting the neighbours in the apartment building next door.
The other story centers on the Métis family who built and first lived in the character house. This story, presented in italics between the present-day chapters, includes a dangerous river crossing in a single-axle cart; premature deaths (TB, scarlet fever, Spanish flu); trapping; and a mysterious, blood-like stain in the attic.
The contemporary story heats up when two students – friends Melissa Arthur and Jody Bear – go missing from the high school (which might be modelled upon Bedford Road Collegiate, if I’ve guessed the geography correctly). Both are Neil’s students, and he takes some major and unconventional risks in helping to locate them. Were they abducted? Are they runaways? Is it all a hoax? While Neil’s busy being both suspected by and working with police, Tanis dives head-long into a research project and a relationship with a descendant from the home’s original family.
This could all become quite convoluted, but Bonny’s got it under control. She keeps the plot moving forward, the pacing tight, and it doesn’t hurt at all that she has both a keen ear for teenaged diction and understands the dynamics of married life. Plus, she includes several west side “landmarks” that ground this story, ie: the Farmers’ Market, the skate park by the river, the highway Esso. This compelling novel works so well because it pits mundane every-day-ness against a very real and topical danger (“Six in ten years is a lot of murdered women [mostly First Nations] for a city their size”).
Deep into the book there’s an interesting husband\wife discussion concerning teenaged boys and where the line’s drawn between respect for \ objectification of women. Although not specifically billed as YA, this well-written novel would make a smart addition to high school reading lists.
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM