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The Other Side of Youth by Kelli Deeth

This is one of four reviews that I wrote for the Globe and Mail this year. It was a big step up from being a book blogger, and more than once, I wondered if I was up to the challenge.

Some of you may also know that I am now the Books Editor at Montreal's Rover Arts, an online arts review. This is a volunteer position for a few hours a week to hone my editing skills. I also have a day job. I'm a language professional, which is both demanding and rewarding, yet my blog is still my first love. 

I'd like to thank you, my readers, for your support. I've just completed my fifth year of blogging.

Happy New Year!

The Other Side of Youth, by Kelli Deeth, Arsenal Pulp Press, appearing in the Globe and Mail on November 29.

More than a decade has passed since the release of Kelli Deeth’s critically acclaimed The Girl Without Anyone. Set in a middle-class Toronto suburb, the collectio n of connected stories followed Leah, a young teen of recently divorced parents who are too self-involved to notice their daughter’s need for attention. After dropping out of school, Leah engages in high-risk behaviour, seeking love in all the wrong places. This highly realistic collection showcased Deeth’s ability to write taut, compelling fiction about someone as familiar as the girl at the mall, or the girl next door.

Deeth’s latest collection of short stories, The Other Side of Youth, is far more ambitious and even more intense. Set entirely in and around Toronto, the stories focus on life-changing events, serving up highly plausible yet often unsettling outcomes–the other side of personal issues that often go unseen. The female protagonists in the 11 tales range in age from their early teens to their late thirties. Each struggles with the life-choices she has made and their inherent consequences.

Picking up a theme from The Girl Without Anyone, Deeth writes convincingly about the vagaries of adolescent longing. Using simple prose, the Toronto-based writer delivers powerful narratives that are both alarming and realistic. In “End of Summer,” 13-year-old Sandra, grieving the loss of her brother, is repeatedly drawn to a field where girls are rumoured to be assaulted. In “Correct Caller,” one of several exceptional tales in this collection, 16-year-old Michelle sets out to distance herself from her embittered mother and prove that she can take care of herself. Landing a job over the phone, the 16-year-old is unfortunately hired by exactly the type of man her mother has warned her about, inadvertently putting herself in harm’s way. In “A Boy’s Hand,” adolescent Tanya seeks affection from an unstable boy, even after he is openly hostile towards her.  In the end, he threatens her with his father’s hunting rifle. In the conclusion of this disquieting tale, Deeth brilliantly taps into the traumatized girl’s mind: “…because it was a gun and it was pointed at me, it had gotten inside. Things that were on the inside never got out. They found a place to live, and when you closed your eyes, they showed themselves.”

Many of the exceptional stories in this collection deal with difficult choices related to motherhood. In “The Things They Said,” Courtney is reaching the end of her child-bearing years, and although she and Michael have decided not to have children because of their own dysfunctional childhoods, Courtney still feels that something is not right, regardless of what they tell each other. In “Ari,” Jana is unable to carry a child to term, and her otherwise loving relationship with Peter begins to disintegrate. Peter longs for a daughter like his niece Ari. The centerpiece, however, is the very moving “Vera’s Room.” The narrator and her husband Andrew adopt seven-year-old Vera, a foster child. Despite the couple’s decision, the narrator’s mothering instinct does not kick in. Vera senses this and rebels against her new mother. For the narrator, Vera is not the child she thought they would have. To make matters worse, Andrew is a natural father who reminds his wife that “it’s not all about her.”

The Other Side of Youth
is a series of finely honed short stories, the kind that linger in the mind well after the book is finished. The extremely rich subject-matter and the author’s ability to write satisfying endings could well be the reasons for this. Deeth is a great writer of short fiction, and The Other Side of Youth is the best collection of short stories I have read in recent memory. It was well worth the 12-year wait.

My other reviews in the Globe and Mail.
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
Bone & Bread by Saleema Nawaz
Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado

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A Moment in Villeray

The beginning of December is a busy time, and one of the hardest things is to muster enough energy on these short days to get everything done. December is also the month when I, like everyone else, take stock of the year passing. My family and I went through a lot this year, but the tragic events were offset by many positive moments.

I fell and injured my knee last year, and it stopped me from doing a lot of blogging this year. I just can't sit for extended periods of time anymore without some degree of pain, and because I work seated for 7.5 hours a day, something had to give.

But as luck would have it, the injury pushed me to spend a lot more time walking year-round in Jarry Park. There is nothing more beautiful than the intense blue of a winter sky, something I can't remember enjoying since I was a kid. And I know that this will annoy the s**t out of some people, but winter can be enjoyed with the right clothing.

Because of my injury I also carved out some time to go to yoga and pilates, which have been beneficial in more ways than one. Not only am I doing something I enjoy, but it also gives me a chance to socialize with people in my neighbourhood. Social opportunities are sorrily missed for people who work from home. But while regular exercise has helped, it has not cured my knee problems or the pain from sitting for long periods of time.

On Friday, I started physiotherapy. I checked on the Internet to find a physiotherapist within walking distance. The address was curiously on Rue Gary Carter, formerly known as Faillon Ouest. Everyone who is at least 40 will remember Gary Carter, the Expos golden-boy catcher, back when we had three TV stations, and if the Expos were playing that's what you were watching, whether you liked it or not. When I saw the sign, it was a happy nostalgic moment.

The physiotherapy session was less cheery. Plenty of prodding later, I discovered that I will need more than a few sessions of physio to correct the muscle imbalance caused by my fall. The problem with uncorrected damage is that our bodies compensate in different ways, which can cause subsequent injuries, namely in the back, neck or ankle.

With my list of exercises in hand, I walked home through the park by the pond. I thought about all the writing I had wanted to do this year but wasn't able to. Nevertheless, the quality of my life definitely improved with regular exercise and fresh air. Below is part of the beautiful silver lining of my injury.

The Pond at Jarry Park in Early December

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