Summary: Ellen’s father’s mid-life crisis when his best friend dies unexpectedly feels like the end of the world for Ellen herself. Suddenly she’s starting over in a new high school in a small town called Salmon Arm, British Columbia, and because it’s 1968 she is facing serious discrimination about her academic and career ambitions to become a doctor. Feeling like an outsider, meeting Tony, another outsider, on the bus to school is just what Ellen needs. Tony is an Indian who is marginalized like Ellen is, albeit in different ways and for different reasons. Their growing friendship and attraction challenges both of them and those around them, but also gives them the strength to follow their dreams.
Number of Pages: 282
Age Range: 14-16
Review: Part historical fiction and part romance, The Way It Is by Donalda Reid ends up being a smart and inspiring read. Although I’m labelling it as romance I don’t mean it in a derogatory way, because Reid’s development of Ellen and Tony’s relationship is authentic and not overdrawn. Instead it’s a partnership, two people supporting each other against the attitudes of the time they live in.
The backdrop of 1968 is captivating as Reid informs her reader of what life was like as a woman and as an Indian during that time. There are some books that should be read because they provide valuable insight into our past, and this is one of them. There are complicated issues of hierarchy and power, self-esteem in relation to societal attitudes, and also the exploration of embracing being an introvert when others expect extroversion.
Reid has some beautiful moments of prose and I simply grew to love Ellen, her protagonist. Also, I enjoyed how Ellen’s parents were committed to helping others and managed to do so in a way that was as unobtrusive as possible.
What I think I like the most though is that the ending is open. This is not a story about two people falling in love and then only focussing on staying together. It’s about the best of friends who fall for each other, but who are both dedicated to achieving their dreams. Perhaps they’ll keep in touch as they attend schools in different parts of the country and eventually end up together, but maybe they will cherish the time they had t and use it as a learning experience to inform future relationships. It could go either way. But either way they are both people with a capacity to grow and to love that will serve them well wherever they end up.
“I’m not alone, Ellen had thought in amazement. There’s another person like me, even if she is only a character in a book.” – Ellen from The Way It Is by Donalda Reid, page 3
“After Ellen had weathered countless rebuffs and teasing, she had stopped trying. She had stayed an outsider. She convinced herself that she preferred to be alone, that she didn’t need friends. She spent her time in solitary activities. Reading and learning, her constant companions, never disappointed her. When being alone was her choice, it no longer hurt.” – Ellen from The Way It Is by Donalda Reid, page 21
“The lake was mirror calm, stretching like cerulean satin out to the reflected mountains on the far shore. Sparks of sunlight flashed from the ripples the geese made as they broke the flat surface of the water. The beauty of the lake and the quiet of nature’s solitude washed over Ellen. For a moment she felt that if the geese took flight, she could lift her arms and fly with them.” – Ellen from The Way It Is by Donalda Reid, page 136