February 24, 2010

Sailor Girl - Sheree-Lee Olson

This book first hit my radar when it came out 2 years ago, and I had always planned to read it, but never quite got around to it. Then last summer, I met Sheree-Lee Olson at the Sleeping Giant Writers Festival, and the first thing that she said when we introduced ourselves was "Oh, my heroine is named Kate - I should have no problems remembering your name!" So I knew that I would have to read this book!

My one regret is not reading it sooner - I just loved it. Kate, the 19-year-old heroine (who is nothing like me!) is running away from life in 1981 and gets a job on a laker, shipping up and down the Great Lakes.

What I loved most about this book was it's ability to draw me right into the moment and make it all seem so real and vivid. And as with the the best books, I was (almost) never aware of the author's voice, but was completely drawn into the narrator's voice. There are a few exceptions to this - one of the most ridiculous similes was a description of a storm on Lake Superior, "Undulating through the waves like a heifer swaying through a field of long grass;" however this was easily balanced out by the beauty of the description the page before, and the page after, and the page after that....

I have been fascinated by the lakers since I was little. Driving with my parents on the Skyway over the Hamilton Harbour on the way to visit Grandma and Grandpa, we would see the lakers gliding in and out, and docked waiting to be loaded or unloaded. Dad would tell us stories about how they would travel all over the Great Lakes carrying all sorts of loads.

Then in high school, I discovered the ballad "White Squall" by Stan Rogers, with it's tragic story of a young sailor swept overboard in a storm.

Later, I moved to Thunder Bay on the north-west corner of Lake Superior, and I can watch the same boats coming in and out of the harbour here, and think of how the same boats will probably end up in that harbour down in Hamilton. I had a chance to travel out to Isle Royale a few years ago by tugboat, and one of the memorable moments of that trip was passing by two lakers in the shipping lane on the way back to Thunder Bay.

And now, reading this book, I can put a picture to what life on the boats might be like.

One final note. Like The Golden Mean, the typeset in this book is beautiful. However, unlike The Golden Mean, the story was interesting enough that I didn't find myself distracted by the beautiful typeset!

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