Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review: My Evangeline by Heidi Radford Legg

Reviewed by Christina
[I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

Published: 2011

It's about: In the summer of 1995, Eighteen-year-old Acadienne Eve LeBlanc is torn between two art school options. Should she move to Montreal to fulfill the wishes of her father and late mother? Or should she take the rougher road and move to Providence to attend RISD and be near her American boyfriend?

Pretty white girl with problems! Sounds like the makings of a YA novel, right? But there's a surprise right toward the beginning, when Eve does what is expected of her rather than following her heart. Soon after arriving in Montreal she gets involved with the intense political situation there- this is the year that the citizens of Quebec nearly seceded from Canada. She also meets people who knew her mother, and as she gets to know them she becomes more and more curious about her parents' past. All the while she is discovering herself as an artist, an Acadian, and a person.

I thought: Hm. Where do I begin? Shall I start with the good news or the bad news? The bad news is pretty easy to sum up, so maybe I'll start there:

Editing. Also proofreading. They are important. My Evangeline has cliches, typos, recurring words/phrases ("pang of guilt", "myopic", "the friend who loved her unconditionally"), and lots of question marks at the end of statements. These things really could have been solved or removed with the eye of an experienced editor. I feel like a broken record with this; it's a big problem I have with self-published books.

The third person omnipresent/omniscient narrator also rubbed me the wrong way. It's sloppy and weak, and it makes the book read like a movie that has been poorly edited: too many short, choppy scenes, with everyone's story jumbled up with everyone else's. Eve is a strong enough character to serve as the center of this novel. We don't need to see the detail scenes that she doesn't experience.

Now that that's out of the way, here are the things I liked: the story, the setting, and the poem. I didn't know where the plot was going, and I liked that the characters were unpredictable. Time really moved right along while I was reading, and that's always a good sign. I also loved learning a little about French Canadians and Acadians. In fact, I wish Ms. Legg would have included more background explaining the history and cultural roots of these two social groups. I wanted to know more about why Quebec tried to secede, why Acadians considered themselves separate from the french identity of the Quebecois. There is some information about all this history, and I'm sure it would have been plenty for most Canadians. But I knew next to nothing when I picked up My Evangeline, and I wanted more.
Evangeline Monument in Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia

Ms. Legg refers to Longfellow's epic poem Evangeline throughout the novel. This was my favorite thing about it. I loved the way she drew parallels between Eve and Evangeline, and I loved the excerpts interspersed throughout the text. What a cool idea for a novel: create a character with the same name and home as the romantic figure, then give her a metaphorically similar life, all the while quoting Longfellow. Brilliant! Now if we could just clean it up and polish it a bit...

Verdict: In Between.

Reading Recommendations: I read this one pretty much from start to finish during one long day of traveling. It's very well suited to that situation- it's got an interesting, fast-paced story, but also enough subtext to keep my mind somewhat busy. I think it would have been less effective if I'd read it over the course of a week, like I usually would. So pick this one up with you have time to really get into it and stay there.

Warnings: A couple of swears, I think. Teenage lovebirds sleeping together.

What I'm reading next: And There Was Light by Jacques Lusseyran