International Festival of Authors - Parry Sound - at the Charles W. Stockey Centre - 23 October 2013
International Festival of Authors - Parry Sound - at the Charles W. Stockey Centre - 23 October 2013 Fall in Canada means trees in full colour, deliciously cool nights and surprisingly lovely warm days. It is also the time of year when the big literary awards are presented – weeks of suspense for the authors on the short list, are weeks that readers spend feverishly reading the nominated books and making our own predictions.
Not coincidentally fall is the season when readings are presented by the International Festival of Authors across the province of Ontario – including Parry Sound. Our local committee has been busy since last year’s event fundraising and preparing for IFOA Parry Sound, when we will present an evening to celebrate the written word, with readings by four authors – Lewis DeSoto, Alexander Maksik, Janet E. Cameron and Nicole Lundrigan.
Janet E. Cameron grew up in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, and has lived and worked in Halifax, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Tokyo. A graduate of Dalhousie University, she taught in Tokyo for four years. There she met an Irish journalist who became her husband. Janet completed a Master's of Philosophy in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin. Her first novel, Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World, was published March 2013.
Gillian Holden, IFOA Parry Sound committee member, an educator in our community has written this week’s review.
CINNAMON TOAST AND THE END OF THE WORLD by Janet E. Cameron
‘Oh, Stephen, I just want to wrap my arms around you and tell you that it gets better. It really does.’ And fortunately, by the end of this heart wrenching account of Stephen Shulevitz’s childhood and adolescence, it does start to get better.
Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World, a first novel by Janet E. Cameron, features seventeen year old Stephen, finishing his final year at high school. He is an extremely intelligent student, with plans to pursue post secondary education. Having spent his early years being home schooled on a pseudo commune, it is a big adjustment for Stephen to enter Grade 3 in a regular school after his parents move the family to a nearby town. Soon after, Stephen’s father leaves the family and there is no contact with him for many years. Stephen’s mother, a victim of abuse at the hands of her father, and a proponent of the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ school of parenting, raises Stephen herself.
Throughout the story, Stephen is befriended and protected by Mark, a boy who has been his bodyguard since Grade Three when he was paid 50 cents to beat him up on the playground. Instead of carrying out the deed, Mark, a student with learning difficulties, decided to befriend Stephen in exchange for having his homework completed. But as the book begins, Stephen reveals that he is in love with Mark, a boy who is homophobic in the extreme.
Cameron deals with very heavy themes such as bullying, homophobia and teenage pregnancy in this novel which takes place in the distant 1980s. Thirty plus years later, our society is so much more familiar with these themes. As I read the book, I had to keep the timeframe at the forefront of my mind in order to understand why the violence, extremism and narrow mindedness were so strong. As well, I was constantly in fear of the possibility of Stephen taking his own life, and turned the pages with great trepidation at times.
But Cameron also deals with the themes of resilience and forgiveness. Stephen has a remarkable capacity for resilience. Despite the literally never ending bullying he has endured, he continues to look forward to the future and to associate with the people who have tormented him since he first moved to town. Despite his betrayal by his best friend, he does not seek revenge. When a new acquaintance betrays his confidence at a house party, Stephen makes the most of the experience.
Following the climax of the novel, Stephen demonstrates great strength when he forgives the perpetrator of the worst beating he has ever received. It is incredible that Stephen is not warped and destroyed by the pain and suffering he has experienced in his short life. Cinnamon Toast ends on a hopeful note, as Stephen begins a new life in which he is able to be true to himself, and find a peer group that accepts and supports him. By the end of the novel, I no longer felt I had to hug and reassure him.
Janet E. Cameron will read from Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World at the Charles W. Stockey Centre at 7:30 pm on Wednesday 23 October.
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