Summary: Travelling from Toronto, Ontario to Smallwood, British Columbia to visit her grandmother is a long trip, especially when Claire does not have a clear picture of what she’s heading into. Suddenly she finds herself in a small town where everyone knows her history except her, and she is known simply as Janey’s girl. Trying to uncover the secrets her mother has been keeping her whole life, Claire stumbles upon the father she never knew, and must confront the existence of a half-brother who needs her help. If she can put aside her mother’s pain and her own, she has the chance to stop family patterns from repeating and save a life in the process.
Number of Pages: 222
Age Range: 13-14
Review: When family issues are unresolved, they always seem to find a way to affect future generations. In Claire’s case, with her mother Jane to see her grandmother pops the isolated bubble they’ve been living in across the country, and reveals Jane has been keeping many, many secrets.
Except secrets are hard to keep in a small town environment. Thus Claire learns quickly that the father she believes abandoned her is actually her grandmother’s neighbour, and his spirited son is her half-brother. Though Jane is only returning to the place she grew up after her father has died, Claire pieces together the complicated nature of their relationship and how it has affected Jane in the long term. There are many hurts that Jane is hanging onto, and keeping these secrets from her daughter has turned her into exactly the person she resented: her father.
What I love though is Gayle Friesen’s distinction between mother and daughter. Jane took everything to heart and was so angry with her father over his constant restrictions that she moved a great distance away to raise Claire on her own. Mac, her best friend, decides he doesn’t want to leave town when Jane finds out she’s pregnant, contributing to her hurt and pain and also strengthening her resolve.
But what Jane doesn’t realise is when she struggles so hard to protect her own daughter from the evils of the world by not telling her things, she is doing exactly what her father did to her. She becomes much like the man she couldn’t understand and grew to hate, and when Claire finds out all of the truths that have been kept from her all these years, she is in danger of following in her mother’s footsteps.
Thankfully though, Claire takes a different path. As Jane observes, Claire is somehow able to let go of everything that has gone before, and puts her own feelings aside to help her half-brother when needed. She doesn’t hold a grudge, instead she embraces her family as they are and tries her best to do right by them.
There’s a little romance along the way, but mostly it’s an enlightening look at a complicated mother/daughter relationship.
“I play a quick staccato piece to keep my feelings in check. There’s no point in getting angry. Anger makes you ask questions. Anger sets up expectations and demands to know the truth. And I know from experience that this is impossible.” – Claire from Janey’s Girl by Gayle Friesen, page 25
“‘And then there was the piano.’
‘I loved it, Claire.’ Her voice is so low I have to concentrate to make out the words. ‘Almost more than anything. I think it was a way for me to say the things I didn’t even know I was feeling. It was my voice.’ She looks away.” – Conversation about music between Jane and Claire from Janey’s Girl by Gayle Friesen, page 125
“Jack and Gran move back to the house. My mother cries for a long time. Slow, deep sobs at first, and then a stillness. We just stand there. She doesn’t try to break away; there’s no twitchiness in her. Nothing. Just stillness. That’s when I know that things are going to be different.
We walk back to the house arm in arm. She goes to the music room, removes a heavy green book from the piano bench and places it on the polished music stand.
The house is filled with music. She plays slowly, lovingly. And the music is sacred.” – Claire from Janey’s Girl by Gayle Friesen, page 222
Janey’s Girl by Gayle Friesen is published by Kids Can Press, (1998).