I’ve long been a fan of Hamilton, Ontario’s arts and culture scene (yeah, Supercrawl!), and the gritLIT book festival has long been on my wish list of things to do. So I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to be part of the blog tour promoting some of the fantastic books and writers being featured in the festival program.
The full festival schedule is online, where you may select from a list of free and ticketed events, as well as purchase a pass for the entire weekend. Most events will be at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, and the line up of authors is impressive, including Michael Winter, Giles Blunt, Camilla Gibb, George Elliott Clarke, Kim Echlin and Farzana Doctor.
For my stop on the blog tour, I’ll be reviewing Corinne Wasilewski’s Live from the Underground. Corinne will be at gritLIT festival on Sat April 9 at 2 pm, at “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” with Sabrina Ramnanan, sharing humorous stories about small town life.
Review | Live from the Underground, Corinne Wasilewski
Live from the Underground is a love story between two teenagers in Lampeq, a small town in the Bible Belt of New Brunswick. “If Lampeq were a flavour of ice cream, I guarantee we’d be vanilla,” quips Eleanor Hanson, a smart, quiet girl who has lived in Lampeq all her life. She is intrigued by Darek Dabrowski, who dreams of moving to New York someday and whose family has just immigrated from Poland. Despite being exiled from their home country for his father’s political activism, Darek is optimistic about their future in North America, until he realizes, “Lampeq had no Levi Strauss jeans, no Adidas running shoes, and the Ford Mustangs were outnumbered by trucks hauling dead trees. We had come to the end of the world.”
On one hand, Live from the Underground is a sweet story of love and friendship, and on another, it’s a rather bittersweet look at growing up in a small town, where all your secrets and your family’s secrets have nowhere to hide. For Darek, giving up their life in Poland leads to a strain on his family, and his mother’s response turns his family practically into front page news. Eleanor’s quiet life is turned upside down by a horrific experience in college, and the consequences for her are magnified by the knowledge that her every action can be observed and scrutinized by people who have known her all her life. There is a bit of slut shaming that I’m not okay with, when Eleanor compares her behaviour to that of a friend who got drunk and went home with a man, but I like the friend’s response, and I admit it fits with the 1980s setting and Eleanor’s conservative upbringing.
There’s potentially a lot to unpack in the story Wasilewski sets up, and one can’t help but feel she barely skims the surface. I wish the relationship between Darek and Eleanor had been given more space to develop, though I like the rather wistful ending. One major drawback for me is that the sections are told in alternating voice, switching between Darek and Eleanor without any obvious indication. Context clues make it fairly easy to determine who is speaking at which section, but I found it confusing at times, and found it detracted from my enjoyment of the story.
Still, overall, Live from the Underground is an entertaining read. I found the story of Darek’s family’s life in Poland particularly interesting, and I love how Eleanor’s story captured the fishbowl sensation of living in a small town like Lampeq.
My review of Live from the Underground is the first stop on the gritLIT 2016 blog tour. Next: check out Just a Lil’ Lost‘s review of Still Mine by Amy Stuart on March 31, and the rest of the schedule above. And be sure to check out the full gritLIT festival in April!
Thanks to gritLIT festival for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.