Listen to the Squawking Chicken
By Elaine Lui, BA’96 (History, French)
One of the reasons the mother-daughter genre demonstrates such resilience and endurance in both fiction and on screen might be the nearly universally relatable instances of sometimes highly charged emotional complexity that has characterized mother-daughter relationships since, well, forever.
In much of this genre, there is usually the standard formula of generationally based tension or misunderstanding materialized as some form of issue or set of issues, but that the issue is resolved in dialectical fashion whereby the relationship is deepened and strengthened. It could be boys, family obligations, drugs or simply how daughters may choose to live their lives (sometimes to the frustration of mothers) and how mothers choose to ‘suggest’ what their daughters ought to do. In the end, mothers are more accepting of the autonomy of their daughters, and daughters come to better appreciate the wisdom of their mothers.
There are tears, there are hugs and everything wraps up pleasantly.
It can be a challenge to present something new to this genre, unless there is an added draw. Elaine Lui’s quasi-memoir features her mother, somewhat cheekily though aptly described as a squawking chicken, born Year of the Tiger while the daughter is born Year of the Ox. The hook here is the intimate dynamic of real mother-daughter (i.e., not overly sentimentalized) relations interwoven with issues arising from more traditional Chinese culture. Squawking Chicken is no gentle, wilting flower; she is a strong-willed, fiercely pragmatic, sometimes offensive, always colourful character who takes credit for her daughter’s every success, and blames her daughter’s failures on not heeding her sage (and very frequent) advice.
Lui tells this story with a mixture of sardonic charm and witty reflection, leaving all the rough and burred edges of their relationship unpolished and real. What truly makes this book stand out in the vast sea of mother-daughter or multicultural collision stories would be the overturning of just about every stereotype, while other stereotypes emerge as an intentional caricature.
A good pick-up-and-read for its humour and insight, this simply ain’t the Gilmore Girls.
The Gargoyle at the Gates
By Philippa Dowding
The last in the trilogy by the children’s lit author Philippa Dowding, we are introduced to Christopher Canning, a boy who has moved to Toronto. The problem is, he has no friends, and the environs of Toronto are kind of spooky, what with the gargoyles everywhere and other unexplained phenomena.
What Christopher comes to learn is that the gargoyles are alive, and that there is a villain known only as The Collector whose only goal is to … collect the gargoyles.
Dowding provides young readers with a host of interesting, but not distracting, facts about gargoyles in this short mystery novel. Not having read the first two books in the series is no barrier to reader entry as it seems as though Dowding wrote the story in such a way that it could be detached as standalone, but also providing some reward to readers who have read the first two.
The gargoyle characters like Gargoth and Ambergine are very well crafted in terms of depth, and Dowding does an admirable job of creating a mysterious atmosphere that will certainly delight younger readers. As this reviewer has not read the first two in this series, there are some unanswered questions: What is the villain’s motivation in capturing these gargoyles?
However, despite what may be a loose thread, it will permit younger readers to use their own imaginations to speculate on what is not written. And, of course, not every mystery has to be fully resolved to be enjoyable.
By Richard Philp
Philp can be said to come by the subject of this novel honestly. A bona fide history buff of the War of 1812, one might come to expect that another entree into the historical fiction genre can be weighted down with too much detail, and that the plot becomes little more than a prop to demonstrating the author’s extensive background research. In Philp’s case, this is not so, for although his keen historical sense is evident, it is exceptionally integrated into the plot and narrative.
Philp masterfully captures the enduring uncertainty of both frontier life and the gruesome battles that disrupted communities and introduced an element of precariousness with the vicissitudes of war. Certainly, allegiances and loyalties were tried. As I write this, it is the centennial of the battle of Hungerford Hill (now Reservoir Hill) here in London, and Philp – whose focus is on the Niagara Region – provides us with another detailed portrait of both the trials of war and the challenges of frontier life.
Philp’s prose dispenses with florid descriptions and adopts a practical reportage of events, showing some fidelity to the actual living conditions of the time. This is not to say that the novel is devoid of poetic moments, for we certainly are privy to the insights of Thomas Cooper who, as a miller, must endure the privations of war while managing the needs of the family mill. The reader will be touched by how Tom and some of the members of his family offer up sacrifices with noble zeal as a result of circumstances that put liberty and happiness on the line.
I would recommend this novel to those who enjoy a human testimonial perspective that dramatizes what the war of 1812 meant to those who were caught up in warring circumstances outside of their political control.
Loyalist Rifleman, along with Philip’s Acceptable Casualties, are available at Oxford Bookshop in London, Village Bookshop in Bayfield and Juniper Books in Windsor.