Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Saver

The Saver

Edeet Ravel
For ages 14 and up
Groundwood Books, 2008   ISBN: 978-0888998828

One day Fen comes home and she is confronted by her neighbor who says that Fern’s mother fell down the stairs and is at the hospital. Fern has no idea where the hospital is and since she and her mother have no car she has to rely on public transport. After a long and cold journey Fern gets to Montreal General only to learn that her mother has had a heart attack and died.

The only family Fern has really is her mother’s brother who is in prison somewhere. She and her mother have no friends and so Fern is on her own now. Her only true companion is Beauty, her cat.

Thankfully Fern’s mother was assiduous about always having enough money set aside to pay for two month’s rent, so the housing issue is not pressing. However, having money for food and other necessities is a problem, and so Fern takes over some of her mother’s cleaning jobs. She knows where to go and what to do, and when she isn’t working she is curled up in bed with Beauty, reading and grieving. Fern cannot get over the fact that the last words she said to her mother were angry and unkind.

When she finds an address for her uncle (who is apparently no longer in prison) Fern writes to him to give him the news of his sister’s death. Then she starts thinking about what she can do. She ideally needs some kind of live-in job so that her housing is paid for, and she ends up applying for a position working as a janitor. One of her mother’s cleaning customers is happy to give Fern a glowing reference and she manages to get a janitorial job, even though she has no experience. Fern will have to screen potential tenants, shovel snow in the winter, and do other jobs around the place. Her housing and utilities will be paid for and she will get a small stipend on top of that.

Since what she earns as a janitor is not much, Fern then goes on to get not one but two more jobs. She works at a restaurant at night and in a hotel cleaning during the day. To say that she is spread thin is an understatement, but she manages and she also finds many creative ways to get things she needs for free or at low cost. She is becoming a master at coping and surviving. The only consistent problem she has is Mrs. Coleville. Mrs. Coleville is one of the tenants in her building and she is mean and forever complaining about something. Naturally the person she complains to is Fern. The woman seems to expect Fern to single-handedly turn a low cost apartment into a high end condo, which just isn’t possible. When she does not get her way, Mrs. Coleville becomes downright nasty.

This powerful and often heart wrenching story is told in the form of letters that Fern writes to a friend that she has made up. His name is Xanoth, and he lives on a planet where everything is “perfect,” and where seventeen year old girls don’t end up having to fend for themselves when their only parent dies. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this story is that it is easy to see how Fern falls through the cracks and how no one really cares what happens to her at first. Thankfully Fern is a strong and determined young woman. She may not have done well in school, but she does know how to survive and that is her superpower. She is an inspiration, and we find ourselves hoping against hope that she will find solutions to her problems.