Mountain / Ursula Pflug
Toronto: Inanna, c2017.
This novella from Inanna is an interesting one: it's apparently focused at the YA market, which I only discovered after I'd read it - though the fact that it is in the Inanna Young Feminist Series could be a clue. The good thing is, I couldn't tell, as it was also an excellent read for adults!
The writing is consistently strong, and Pflug never talks down to a YA audience. It's simply that it's a story of Camden O'Connor, a teen in an bit of an extreme situation, through which she must find her own path.
Camden divides her time between her father Lark, a former minor rock star with a lot of money, and with him in Toronto Camden lives a 'normal' urban teen life - malls, music and so on. With her mother Laureen, however, things are different -- not much money, and a nomadic lifestyle travelling around to various encampments as part of "The Tribe". Laureen is a computer specialist, able to set up internet access almost anywhere, and her skills are in demand at the remote camps they end up at.
But when they arrive in California during the spring thaw, and their new camp is full of various nomads of all sorts in the mud and tents and camp kitchen, Camden has to adapt to a strange new world. Laureen quickly heads down to San Francisco in search of a recent lover, leaving Camden in the care of old friends at the camp, including a young man called Skinny, who becomes a good friend to Camden and orients her to the life of the camp. Skinny has his own issues with a past full of trauma, but is a solid and supportive friend to her throughout the story.
Laureen never returns from her trip, and Camden waits and waits, adjusting to camp life. To keep her busy and to give her some direction, she is given the task of collecting stories from some of the other inhabitants of the camp. They tell stories of homelessness, trauma, financial woes, and so on -- many of them have slipped through the cracks of society and have found themselves a place here at this nomadic campsite. These stories are powerful and touching, though I did find that in such a short book they detract somewhat from Camden's own journey to both self-knowledge and to her reclamation of her birth name, Amethyst.
The stories of other lives which Camden shares are reworked from stories that appeared in journals previously, and that might be part of the slight disconnect for me. They were all powerful personal stories of a kind that don't often get told though, so very worth exploring, and especially for a younger reader they may be eye opening.
I thought this short book had a large impact. The characters are so viscerally present, and are complex and thoughtful people. I appreciated the perspective of a story highlighting so many kinds of lives that can be overlooked in general literature. Fortunately Camden has a place to go (to her father) at the end of the story, so there a bit of closure for the reader, knowing she'll be safe and able to continue healing from her experiences.
This was an unusual read that I'd recommend if you want to shake up your reading habits a bit.