Summary: After a major power outage in the city, Jim Hobbs makes his way out the subway tunnel he got stuck in and just starts walking. Everything just comes to a head and Jim decides he needs a break from school, his fractured family and the city itself, so he hitches a ride out to the Prairies and comes across an abandoned farm called Bliss where he learns to take care of himself without modern conveniences. Bliss is next to Majestic farm and when Jim gets to know a couple of his neighbours, he decides to seek work on their farm so he can get to know them better. But the farm turns out to be a cult, and Jim’s friendship with Miriam and her nephew Thomas forces him to make some tough choices when he finds out Miriam is about to be married off to an older man named Hosea.
Number of Pages: 271
Age Range: 17-18
Review: This was my second time reading Road to Bliss by Joan Clark, and I appreciated it a lot more than I did the first time. Because I knew what was going to happen and that it was a slower paced story, I was able to relax into the read and enjoy it for what it was, a bit of a commentary on over-dependence on electricity and other amenities, the beauty of self-reliance and connection to nature, and an exploration of cult life in regards to thinking for yourself.
Jim is a genuine character who goes from being a city guy to an independent young man who can take care of himself and others. He’s willing and skilled at learning by experience, and as a result adapts well to the challenges of life on the Prairies. It was something he perhaps knew all along, but living in the city with his sister and mother didn’t really give him the opportunity to be self-reliant in that way. He’s also quite mature and trustworthy.
That said, life with his family wasn’t all terrible; his sister is clearly responsible for his evolved attitudes about female rights which helps a great deal with his interactions with Miriam and the cult itself. His parents love him and end up coming together after a separation when Jim goes across the country by himself.
I also loved the role Bliss’ previous owners play in Jim’s life. Although they aren’t around, Hector and Iris are kind of Jim’s surrogate parents with the stories he hears about them and their lingering presence in their home and schoolhouse. Though Jim doesn’t meet them in person till the end, they have a profound affect on the course of his life.
I truly enjoyed the book’s ponderous nature. There are some incredibly deep moments of insight on Jim’s part, and I have included my favourites in the Memorable Quotes section. Because it’s a bit of a slow read and takes time to develop, I would recommend it for older, experienced teen readers, but it’s a lovely contrast of life in different parts of Canada.
At the end of my read, I’m left with an incredible longing to venture out to the Prairies and view the unadulterated night sky as Jim does. I also wish that I had the kind of autonomy that would allow me to live like Jim, solitary and in communion with nature.
“He hung up just as Paula was reminding him once again about school. He felt badly cutting the conversation short, knowing his mother wanted to keep him talking. But he felt good, too, knowing that he’d stuck to his guns and hadn’t caved in to the one person in the world who could persuade him to turn around and go home, back to the city where he’d spent his entire life.” – Jim from Road to Bliss by Joan Clark, page 19
“Did abandoned houses keep the memories of the people who had lived there? The people who moved away had the memories, but did the houses themselves? Was that what ghosts were – memories?” – Jim from Road to Bliss by Joan Clark, page 40
“Even after he’d made the decision to return to Majestic Farm. Jim continued to sit on the well top in the cool air, watching the sky blossom into the night. For some reason, tonight’s sky reminded him of a vast garden: the stars flickering like tiny flowers, the Milky Way winding itself around them like a giant creeper. Venus white as a daisy. Mars poppy red now that its orbit was bringing it closer to Earth.
Jim thought about the fixed position of the sun, the orderly procession of the planets, each in its own orbit. He thought about the chaos of collapsed matter, the rogue comets – the loose cannons of outer space. Order and chaos. The night sky seemed no longer like a garden but like a gigantic brain. He was looking straight up into the Creator’s brain. That was how he wanted to think of God, not as a God who dictated rules and gave orders as to how everyone should live and think, but as a Creator with a mind that was forever changing and expanding.” – Jim from Road to Bliss by Joan Clark, pages 127-128
“What he wouldn’t give to have his guitar right now. No matter what his problems, he could always count on his guitar to calm him down. Playing his guitar was like having a conversation with himself, a conversation that wandered this way and that, never in a straight line – a chord here and a chord there, meandering like his life, going in one direction and then another. He liked that. Jim could tell his guitar anything and everything and it never judged him, never let him down, never made him feel left out or geeky. Tomorrow he’d phone and ask Zack to bring his guitar so he could sit in the back seat and tell his guitar how he felt about the things that had happened since he left home.” – Jim from Road to Bliss by Joan Clark, page 261
“After a while he continued speaking, his voice careful and cautious. ‘When you have lived as long as I have, Jim, you see that the way you live your life comes down to ends and means.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘It’s all very well for people to pursue their religious beliefs, whatever they might be, but if they use the wrong methods to achieve what they want, where’s the good in it?'” – Conversation between Hector and Jim from Road to Bliss by Joan Clark, page 267
Road to Bliss by Joan Clark is published by Doubleday Canada, (2009).