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Jul 5, 2011

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A story of loss and moving on
Retired teacher crafts fine debut novel
Sun, Jul 3 – 4:54 AM

The Year Mrs. Montague Cried by Susan White (Acorn Press, 164 pages, $12.95, 11 and up)

The year Mrs. Montague cried is the year her son Zac died in a car accident. It’s also the year that the book’s main character and narrator, Taylor Anne Broderson, learns her little brother Corey has terminal cancer.

How they deal with their tragedies unfolds through Taylor’s daily journal that she writes in class.

Her musings can be both precocious for a nine-year-old (she loves to read and write stories) and utterly typical for her age (lots of Top 10 lists). White gives Taylor’s writings a lovely voice — open, intelligent and empathetic.

Yes, there’s major sadness in this very touching first novel by New Brunswick author Susan White, who won the young adult category of the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia 2010 Atlantic Writing Competition for this book.

But it’s transcended, ultimately by the powerful capacity we have to heal (or sometimes not quite), and go on. And on.

For, as Taylor learns, we can let someone go and keep them at the same time “and no one and nothing can take them away from us.”

As Taylor’s family struggles through Corey’s radiation and chemotherapy treatments, a journey that ultimately ends with the boy’s death, Mrs. Montague is struggling to put her own life back together as best she can after Zac dies.

Sometimes, Mrs. M. is absent from school. Or cries in class and has to go home. But in January, after reading aloud to her class about Aslan’s death in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, she shares the story of Zac’s death with her students.

And they share their own stories of loss with her. It’s not a panacea for her grief but is another important step forward in her journey to heal.

White, a retired teacher, dedicates this very fine first novel to her own son Zac, who died in a car accident in 1999, at age 20. While Mrs. Montague isn’t autobiographical, it’s clear White

has drawn on her own feelings and experience to craft such a genuine, moving account of love and loss.

At the end of the book, there’s a very nice touch — White has put together the Taylor Anne Reading Challenge, a list of all the books that Taylor read during the course of the story. They’re impressive novels: you should read them if you already haven’t.


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