*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: Our Homesick Songs
Author: Emma Hooper
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton Canada
Publication Date: August 7, 2018
Synopsis from Goodreads:
The Connor family is one of the few still left in their idyllic fishing village, Big Running, Newfoundland; after the fish mysteriously disappeared, most families had no choice but to relocate and find work elsewhere. Aidan and Martha Connor now spend alternate months of the year working at an energy site up north to support their children, Cora and Finn. But soon the family fears they’ll have to leave Big Running for good. And as the months go on, plagued by romantic temptations new and old, the emotional distance between the once blissful Aidan and Martha only widens.
Between his accordion lessons and reading up on Big Running’s local flora and fauna, eleven-year-old Finn Connor develops an obsession with solving the mystery of the missing fish. Aided by his reclusive music instructor Mrs. Callaghan, Finn thinks he may have discovered a way to find the fish, and in turn, save the only home he’s ever known. While Finn schemes, his sister Cora spends her days decorating the abandoned houses in Big Running with global flair–the baker’s home becomes Italy; the mailman’s, Britain. But it’s clear she’s desperate for a bigger life beyond the shores of her small town. As the streets of Big Running continue to empty Cora takes matters–and her family’s shared destinies–into her own hands.
Our Homesick Songs is a beautiful story about a town torn apart by poverty when the fish population is decimated. The jobs are only available out in Alberta and so slowly but surely the families move away. All except the Connor family, at least a few of them. The children, Finn and Cora stay home in Newfoundland as their parents alternate travelling back and forth to work. Finn has a stubborn hope that the fish will return and that everything will go back to normal. This is a tale of a family just trying to get by and in this experience, they come close to losing everything, but end up gaining everything.
This book is full of beauty–beauty in stories and in songs. The community and this family are built upon these artful traditions. The songs and stories are an essential undercurrent through the whole book, tying the characters together no matter where they are or what time they’re in. The songs are their history and define them as a people, no matter where they end up. Their stories bring them together in times of trial and connect one generation to the next. Our Homesick Songs is so full of life, history, and tradition. It’s rich with hope and highlights the interconnectivity of children to their parents, people to their community, and a community to it’s past, present, and future. This theme runs deep throughout this story and brings the characters together, even when circumstances try to tear them apart.
This story is one that I think many Canadians will relate to. It speaks to true events as the fishing industry out East dwindled and families were forced out of their homes to work in a place so antithetical to everything they’d known. The camps of Northern Alberta differ so greatly from the coasts of Newfoundland and the open ocean. However, this is truly a story of what families do for survival. Although families were driven from their homes, their culture and their art is not something that could ever be taken from them. This is the beauty of culture and of resiliency. People are able to find hope, even when conditions are bleak.
Hooper combines history and art into one amazing novel. She writes a family that is so tangible that they feel incredibly real. Their story is common, but Hooper makes it lyrical. She takes something tragic and finds the spark of hope in it. From the little world that Cora creates from coloured paper, to the songs that Finn sings out on the water, from past to present with an undying belief in something greater or even magical, Hooper conveys true human experience. This book brings characters together and draws a community back from the edge of vanishing completely, all driven by an unwavering belief of a boy who loves his world unwaveringly. There is something wonderful to be learned from Hooper’s tale. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.