The Divorced Kids Club And Other Stories|
by W.D. Valgardson
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by Jeffrey Canton
WD Valgardson’s latest offering, The Divorced Kids Club, is a compelling collection of short stories for YA readers in the tradition of Tim Wynne-Jones’ Some of the Kinder Planets and Sarah Ellis’ Back of Beyond. Valgardson is still known best as the author of fiction for adults like The Girl with the Botticelli Face and Gentle Sinners. But since the 1994 publication of Thor, he’s been building a solid reputation as a serious writer for children, and The Divorced Kids Club is more proof of Valgardson’s exceptional talent.
In The Divorced Kids Club, Valgardson rockets his readers head-first into the lives of six teens and their friends who are trying to find ways to cope with the typical problems of contemporary adolescents. What makes this book a stand-out is that these kids are dealing hands-on with their own problems and trying to find their own solutions—with or without the help of sometimes less capable adults.
Kathleen, in the title story of the collection, is a founding member of the Divorced Kids Club, a school club (albeit unofficial) that kids of divorced or separated parents have formed to talk about the problems that marital ups-and-downs have created in their lives. The group provides support that kids just don’t get from counsellors, shrinks or their parents.
A winter weekend with her mom’s new boyfriend, Mr. Turner, and his sons turns into a disaster when a snowstorm hits and Mr. Turner breaks his leg. It’s up to Kathleen to save the day. In the course of her rescue mission, Kathleen discovers her own inner strengths as she reflects on the stories she’s heard from the group and weighs the advice. She also learns something about her own Icelandic past that helps make her feel more connected to the future, as does Annie Lee in “Cabin Fever”. Valgardson explores his own Icelandic roots in these stories, which adds both a sense of history and an eerie supernatural zing.
Problems with parents is a recurrent theme in The Divorced Kids Club: “Blame my mother and father,” says the narrator of “The Sand Shifter” who is doing community service after getting involved in a convenience store robbery with his best friend, Gisli. Gisli has problems of his own: he turns to crime not because he’s a thief at heart, but because he’s trying to cope with being unwanted. Jamie’s folks in “Bush Boy” are having a hard time getting by: his father has lost his job as a result of a forestry accident and is picking mushrooms to make a few bucks and keep busy. And Tracy’s parents in “The Entertainer and the Entrepreneur” are flower children who don’t understand their daughter’s entrepreneurial aspirations.
But like Kathleen, these kids are learning to cope with their parents and the world that they inhabit. Sam, a cyberspace junkie who wants nothing more than to create his own home page, finds himself cut off from his computer in “Cyberworld”. Despite withdrawal symptoms, he throws himself into a weekend of creative anachronisms at a medieval joust, checks out beachcomber culture, and hooks into an afternoon of football and cheesie-munching with his dad—discovering, in each encounter, a parallel to his cyberworld. When the narrator of “The Sand Shifter” does his community service work at a local mason, he discovers that there’s more to building walls than mortar and brick.
Friendships, relationships, good times, hard times are all explored in the course of these wonderfully rich and empowering short stories. There’s plenty of humour, with just the right amounts of meditation and anxiety. The Divorced Kids Club is a must-read for teens and their parents alike. •
Ex libris by L. Benenson, from the personal collection of Henryk Wojcik.