Anne Laurel Carter is one of a new generation of fine short story writers for young adults in Canada. A past winner of the Vicky Metcalf award and the Thistledown Press' Young Adult short story competitions, her first short story collection, No Missing Parts, from Red Deer Press will only confirm her promise as a writer to watch.
In her preface to the collection, Carter sets the scene by informing the reader of the threads she sees connecting these very different stories¨love and princesses, but not the traditional fairy tale princesses rescued from their fates by handsome princes; instead, ". . . independent young women who. . .took leadership, defied social convention, and were smart enough to banish evil from their home . . ." Her stories feature just such protagonists and range across Canada both geographically and historically, so, amongst others, we meet an Irish princess marooned off the coast of Newfoundland in the sixteenth century, Sybil, who had to find a way out of farm life in 19th century Saskatchewan, Pauline who has been crippled by polio in the Toronto of the early 1960s, and Tess whose contemporary love story completes the collection.
Carter has a spare, elegant style which results in stories that are dense and layered, leaving the reader thinking about the characters even after the story is finished. She also uses imagery that is both apt and understated, images that stay in the mind for some time. "Badlands", Sybil's story, is a case in point: The image of a barn cat worn out by continual litters of kittens creeping away to die, resonates deeply as the reader comes to realize that this is what is happening to Sybil's mother. She is worn out by the hard struggle of life on a farm, and the same will happen to Sybil unless she has the courage to seize the opportunity that has been offered to her. Short story collections are often patchy in quality, and No Missing Parts almost avoids this flaw. Eight of the ten stories are truly wonderful, exemplars of how to handle this deceptively difficult genre, and a testament to Anne Laurel Carter's talent. The stories have been arranged chronologically. This is an unfortunate, albeit logical, choice, which results in the two weakest stories coming first. Carter's retelling of the story of the Irish Princess, Sheila NaGeira, draws heavily upon fairy tale traditions, and although it is interesting, it isn't as engaging as the other stories largely because of its archetypal characters and happenings. Equally, "Far from Home, The Journal of Marie Robichaud", dealing with the forced relocation of the Arcadians, suffers from a surfeit of historical information; it is arguably necessary to set the scene, but ultimately it distances the reader from the main character. The other stories, however, are some of the finest stories I have read for a long time. This collection will be a valuable addition to home and school libraries across Canada, a must read for teenage girls who want to see their own lives reflected so intelligently.
Gillian Chan is a children's writer and reviewer whose latest book is The Carved Box from Kids Can Press