Summary: Moving across the ocean from Scotland to Toronto, Ontario, Aggie Maxwell is joining her sister Emma in a new country to work as a domestic and raise money to fund the rest of her family’s immigration to Canada. At seventeen, Aggie finds herself the recipient of more than one young man’s affections, but love takes its time finding her. Her job and life as an independent young woman change her and give her confidence, so when she does fall in love with a man named Will, she is ready to make her own decisions about her life. Now she just has to figure out if she can stand up for herself with her father.
Number of Pages: 218
Age Range: 13-14
Review: Aggie Maxwell is seventeen and starting a new life in Canada. After living in Scotland as the third in a family of eight children with a father who has strict beliefs about physical punishment, Aggie comes to Toronto, Ontario with a mind to take care of herself and live her own life.
To Dance at the Palais Royale by Janet McNaughton is the story of a young woman finding her feet in a new country. Still grieving the death of her older brother Dougie, moving across the ocean from her home country is not something Aggie wants to do, but rescuing her family from the bleak life of coal mining by moving them to Canada is her duty as a daughter. Through a bit of a meandering storyline with some memorable characters, McNaughton develops Aggie’s character and takes her from yearning for a life beyond her station to finding love with a Newfoundlander with his own secret shame. She grows up, and gets to the point where she can step aside from the responsibility she feels toward her family and begin a family of her own making.
The best part of McNaughton’s book, besides her natural storytelling ability, is that it captures a period of time before the stock market crash of 1929, and before World War II. It is based on the stories of numerous women who immigrated to Canada as domestic workers to pursue a different future for themselves and their families. I love McNaughton’s way with words, and as she is a native Torontonian who moved to Newfoundland, I also love how she slipped in a fellow from Newfoundland to be the love of Aggie’s life in a story set in Toronto.
“‘Rachel,’ she said, ‘I don’t understand why bad people are not punished, how there can be such hate in the world.’ Aggie paused. ‘But now you are in a different country, you have a different life. If you let what has happened ruin your life, it will be as if…as if the porgrom continues in your heart forever.’
‘It does,’ she said. ‘The ones who die. I live my whole life with them. Now they are dead. On that day, part of me dies too.'” – Conversation between Aggie and Rachel from To Dance at the Palais Royale by Janet McNaughton, page 142
“‘I travelled to St. John’s just the once, to get a berth on a sealing vessel. The seals comes up on to the pack ice in the spring to pup, see? The ocean turns right white – a sea of ice. Sometimes, on a the foggy day, the light seems to come more from the ice than the sky, almost as if the world were upside down. And everything right silent, still and calm…but the ice bears in on the ship till all the timbers creak. You wants a wooden vessel on the ice, because it gives. I seen square hatches in the deck of that vessel pushed to diamonds by the pressures of the ice.'” – Will from To Dance at the Palais Royale by Janet McNaughton, page 176