Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Having Faith in the Polar Girls' Prison by Cathleen With

A haunting and bleak image of life in the Mackenzie Delta emerges through the voice of Trista, a new mother who is in prison. The Polar Girls' Youth Facility is north of Inuvik and south of Tuktoyaktuk. Trista is 15 and waiting for her court date. Her daughter, Faith, was born premature on the day Trista was arrested. Trista knows that Faith will only be allowed to stay with her for about two months. The baby has severe health problems: "Some workers say maybe even foster care can't take her, she's so retarded."

The details of Trista's crime are unclear until the last part of the book. She disassociates from the present and her thoughts ramble back and forth through her tragic childhood. Trista never knew her father, who was a rig pig working on the Beaufort Sea. Her mother was 13 when Trista was born and died when she was seven, which is also about the time that Trista was introduced to sex and alcohol. Her story is heartbreaking and yet offers the balm of forgiveness and hope in the end. Grade 9 - up.

Note added July 9, 2010: Cathleen With and Robert Arthur Alexie were interviewed by Joseph Boyden last autumn at the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival. The audio-archives are available online and include an excerpt of With reading from Having Faith in the Polar Girls' Prison.

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