by Kristine Scarrow
The bright sun and wheat fields of the cover may hint at the Saskatchewan setting but not the darkness and confusion of If This is Home, Kristine Scarrow’s second novel for young people. And though the story resolves itself to a setting in which a swing, grain fields and fresh breezes prevail, don’t expect a happily-ever-after ending because If This is Home is more real than that.
Even with their mother working two jobs, there is barely enough food in the house for sixteen-year-old Jayce (J.J.) Loewen and her four-year-old sister Joelle. But now their mom is missing shifts, barely able to get out of bed, and their dad Joe, a touring musician, hasn’t been in the picture for years, never even having met Joelle. When J.J. meets the intriguing senior Kurt at detention, he shows interest in a friendship with her which she tries to nix.
My mom has kind of given up on everything and stays in bed all the time. My four-year-old sister pretty much fends for herself. I'd invite you in, except I'd have nothing to offer you but a hot, steamy bowl of oatmeal and, really, my life is getting far too complicated to add something new in, so it's best if we cut ties now. (pg. 22)However, after her mom is taken to hospital and diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, and J.J.’s best friend Amanda pays little attention to anything but her own dramas, J.J. finds Kurt a valuable support as she seeks out her dad, as instructed by her dying mother.
However, the search for Joe does not lead to the comforting family the girls need. In fact, J.J. discovers Joe is no longer the bad-boy musician she’d remembered and is harbouring secrets that stun and anger her. Meanwhile her mother is reaching out to her own mother who’d stood by when J.J.’s grandfather kicked J.J.’s mother out upon learning of her pregnancy at 18. Will J.J.’s father and grandmother be able to offer the support her family needs? Does she have it in her to forgive their trespasses against her mother and sister and herself?
I'm done letting people walk in and out of my life at their whim. It's better just to keep them out altogether. (pg. 119)When troubles overwhelm, most of us seek out family. After all, they’re the ones who are supposed to take you in when no one else will. But what happens when history and disappointment and anger impede that happy reunion? Do you look elsewhere or find the means to forgive? Kristine Scarrow creates a tenuous situation of an ill mother trying to find caregivers for her children when there seems to be no one around and worrying that she will die before she is able to restore familial links. But more than that, If This is Home is about a teen trying to be the adult in a family untethered, trying to secure assistance without showing her vulnerabilities or forgiving those who’ve neglected them for so long. While Kurt, a young man who lives and cares for his ailing grandmother and is very forthcoming about his own parents’ inadequacies, provides a sharp contrast to J.J.’s own situation, he provides her with the unconditional support she requires. He becomes the family she desperately needs while helping her to reconcile the family she has.
If This is Home is all about finding home in whatever form is available to you. For J.J. and Joelle, home is what is made for them by those who want to do right and it's a home and a family as real as any.