Slag: Joyce Harrison
Appearances often dictate the way others treat you. But, parents are supposed to care about their children whether they are beautiful, plain or overweight. Some often live vicariously through others and want what they can’t have. Others, like Emily Sorenson are embittered, angry and resentful that she does not have the same luxuries that others do and often uses this as an excuse to take it out on her 18-year-old daughter Anna. Longing to be accepted by her parents and just wanting to survive until graduation, the year is 1955, the town is a mining town named Flin Flon and the population in this Canadian mining town is struggling to remain afloat as the threat of a strike is on the horizon.
Anna Sorenson is not a raving beauty but she is smart, resourceful and just wants to be loved. Dealing with a father who drinks too much, a mother whose moods are as unpredictable as the snowstorm taking place or the weather, she often finds herself hiding in her room and waiting until the final eruption or explosion is over.
Kat is her best friend whose father is the head of the mining company that her father works for and yet the have a strong bond. Added in is her boyfriend and star of the hockey team Royce whose relationship with Kat is one that Anna would like to have for herself. But, the story begins in 1970 and flashes back to 1955 so the reader gets to know more about Anna, the one decision that changed her life and the reason why she left this mining town hoping to never look back or return. But, with the death of her mother the author takes us back in time to where it all began, her senior year, the winter of 1955 and her hope to emancipate herself from her mother. Prejudice rings true loud and clear and her feelings for Ken, a young man of Cree Indian Blood causes more than just the normal adolescent dating problems. Revisiting her hometown would drudge up more than just memories and she hopes that by reliving her past she will learn more about how to deal with the present. With a mother who was abusive will Anna be able to become a good parent? Married to Jake will she admit they were going to be parents?
Getting to know Anna we realize that she comes from an abusive home where her mother feels it’s her right to abuse her both physically and verbally often making herself feel better because of her own insecurities. A father whose main goal is to gamble, drink and hopefully survive from paycheck to paycheck learns what happens when things don’t go his way and the mining company forces all of its workers to rethink their thoughts of going on strike. Things heat up during this awful snowstorm as the championship hockey game begins, the winner declared and the end result would be something the town would never forget. A natural disaster caused by the storm results in many injuries and some deaths. Small towns usually ban together to help those that are less fortunate as both Kat’s parents and Anna’s find ways to pitch in but only one does it with a good heart and the other remains coldhearted. Slag is a novel that brings to light what happens one some many young people have to overcome the prejudices of adults, the poverty that some endure and the mistakes that adults make and often spill over to their children.
When Ken learns the truth behind why he cannot contact his sister about the upcoming strike or the disaster what happens next alert readers that things are about to change for everyone. Harry Jameson embezzled the union’s money and thought nothing of hiding it. Thinking he and Ruby, Ken’s sister would make it over the border and get away with his plan surprised them both when caught. Ruby Whitehouse became a victim of more than just circumstances when she agrees to what Harry has in mind. Love wins out and common sense loses in this case. But, this book is quite deep and the hidden themes are many as the author gives readers a first hand account of many vital hockey plays at the start of each chapter setting the pace and the tone for what happens if you read the play carefully you will see what I mean.
This time period is highly volatile and the rock and roll era and the fifties bring about many changes in music, social classes and racial tensions. As we hear the shouts of Anna’s parents and we learn the weaknesses of both we realize that this young girl is caught in the middle as we learn a secret about Kat that has yet to be revealed.
When Anna is afforded an opportunity to become DJ at a local station why does her mother immediately put her down? Grounded for standing up to her and refusing to take her abuse, Anna is faced with deciding whether she will forge ahead or allow her mother to win once again. With Ken’s support and hearing his voice and words echo in her mind her decision is made and the result will surprise readers. When Anna finally decides to take a stand you just want to stand up and applaud. Emily hates her own life and has chosen to make sure everyone suffers. Why should Anna!
Some decisions will have serious repercussions as one young girl thinks with her heart and not with her mind. Hearing the dialogue between two young teens allows readers to know just how cold some are and that young girls need to think twice before saying a dangerous three letter word: YES!
When revenge is the motive the end is sometimes tragic and one more incident would change Anna’s life, many of the people with Flin Flon as the town learns the harsh and starling truth about the incident. Deceits, lies, betrayals and one rash decision would forever end one young girl’s dreams of an education and lead her in another direction.
When her parents confront Anna and they decide on their future and without carrying about her what happens will send her on a lonely journey to find herself, forget her past and create her own future. Anna just wants to be accepted and loved and what she learns when we return to the present just might explain her mother’s actions in the past. Kat’s future was supposed to be marked with education, love and a career but that changes and at the end you learn her fate. Ken and Royce two adversaries yet friends on the hockey rink. One never fulfills his dreams the other quite the opposite. Friendships, loyalties, greed, distrust, revenge, love, abuse and one young girl named Anna whose voice we hear and wonder: What’s next for her? Can she forgive her mother for the past? What will she decide for her own future? What exactly does she want? Slag: what is left after the minerals are processed. When you see the cover of the book you are faced with hard, black, gray metallic like material that is worthless rubbish that most people pay little attention to. Or you might think about this: Emily is an individual who does not care about anything but herself, her own feelings and her needs. Slag: the cold hard metal left over that is melted and reshaped with edges that are sharpened or softened. Life brings changes and although Anna lived her life almost in isolation at times except for her friendship with Ken and Kat she often refers to the past and her present as if she has been reshaped into what I would think is a more valuable version of Slag. When the past comes back into the present and a hidden secret revealed will she still think of herself as Slag or possibly a more valuable mineral? Thought provoking, fast paced and filled with real life incidents and issues not just prevalent in the fifties but now this is one book that not only adults but young adults should read to understand what happens when choices are made, parents need to listen and lives are at stake when deaf ears reign and one woman relives her past creating misery in her daughter’s future. An ending so powerful you won’t expect it and a book that everyone must read.
Fran Lewis: reviewer