Queen of the Godforsaken

resource links, october 2016

This modern take on the essential blistering prairie novel weds lingering memories of the Battle of Batoche with the battling and shockingly neglectful but educated parents of two girls, Lydia, 15, and Victoria, 14, forced to move to the desolate farmland of Saskatchewan so their father can teach a course at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. 

The family moves from downtown Vancouver to the ancestral homestead, dominated by a huge old house well past its prime, inhabited by the remains of 6 woodpeckers, inadequate heat, and the unsettling stench of a former in-house chicken coop. This is the end of the earth for the girls and Lydia, especially, is hard-pressed to find any redeeming value in such a hopeless situation. 

However, Lydia is fascinated by the visceral connection the farm has to the Carleton Trail travelled by the North West Rebellion leaders in their conflict with a distant and unsympathetic government. Because her situation seems to echo that of the rebels, she engages in her own rebellion, only to find her parents more distant and lost than either herself or her sister. The two girls set out on their own to a cabin on the prairie. Their unsucessful bid for independence does finally gain the attention of the parents but by then the girls know their own selves better than mom and dad. The eventual trip back to Vancouver is bittersweet.

The humour in this novel is really quite engaging. I also realize it's not a widely shared kind of humour. It reminds me of an observation made by a friend from the prairies who lives in Toronto: many people do not 'get' prairie humour, and much of the humour in the Saskatchewan TV Series Corner Gas went over the heads of many in other parts of Canada. Kind of like mom and dad in Queen of the Godforsaken.

Thematic Links: Family Life; Saskatchewan; North-West Rebellion

— Lesley Little

 

cm magazine, february 12, 2016

Lydia, 15, and her [sister] Victoria, 14, move from Vancouver with their dysfunctional parents to their father’s family homestead near a small Saskatchewan town about 30 minutes from Saskatoon. While mother Mary Jane sinks into a suicidal depression and father Alex’s addictions prevent him from any good parenting, Lydia and Victoria brave the hokey, backward, isolated 1980’s school where ice queen Lydia shocks both staff and students with her out-there handmade clothing and her sarcastic, profanity-laced wit. Lydia begins a sexual relationship with Brady, a high-profile Junior A hockey player, while Victoria joins 4H, honing her riding skills on Silver, but both girls are essentially rejected by the community and suffer extreme loneliness. When Mary Jane returns to her parents’ Vancouver home so she can finish her nursing degree and Alex’s university teaching keeps him in Saskatoon some weekdays nights, the sisters decide to skip school entirely, eventually running away to stay in an abandoned cabin. After blizzards and fevers and the death of their dog Marx later, they are rescued. Brady’s hockey career takes him to Banff. Lydia and family return to Vancouver where her father has a new job.

Lydia’s anger goes beyond typical teenage angst. Continually disappointed by and yet longing for her parents, she reacts with confrontation and fury to their rejection. Lydia tries her best to protect Victoria, even playing Barbie dolls with her and encouraging her in the training of Silver. However, she never develops beyond this fierce anger. As the book ends, she seems to have learned no coping skills and still doesn’t accept or understand her parents’ illnesses/addictions.

Neither Mary Jane nor Alex can think beyond their own problems. Neither considers what the girls are going through nor offers any sympathy or everyday affection. Constant bickering defines the family dynamic. Their approach to nutrition is horrific: no one eats well. Neither parent connects with the school until they are faced with the girls’ non-attendance and disappearance.

The farm setting is extremely depressing both summer and winter as we see it through Lydia’s eyes. Particularly vivid is the girls’ trudge to the cabin and their survival there in the middle of blizzards. The connection to Louis Riel and Batoche (their farmhouse stands where the Metis retreated from Middleton) is reflected in Lydia’s dreams and on her walks.

Unfortunately, the book’s tone sometimes drops into melodrama which will set readers’ eyes rolling. The story seems to drag on interminably, too, with every possible situation included and analyzed by Lydia.

The themes of parental neglect, depression, addiction, loneliness and alienation will attract some readers to Queen of the Godforsaken in spite of the pre-technology, pre social media time frame.

Recommended.

Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller. CM Magazine

SPG Book Reviews, december 13, 2015

I took a plethora of notes while reading Mix Hart’s SK-based young adult novel, Queen of the Godforsaken, because there’s a lot going on across the 293 pages it encompasses. The fictional driver of this story, Lydia, is a veritable storm-cloud of teenage hormones – part girl who still plays with Barbies, part woman who feels responsible for her entire family’s welfare – and she might do or say just about anything.

Feisty Lydia; her year-younger and equally sarcastic sister, Victoria (Lydia alternately considers Victoria her best and only friend and also gives her the moniker “Prissy Tits”); their pot-smoking and under-employed professor father; and their dangerously-depressed mother move from Vancouver to the paternal homestead on the Carlton Trail near Batoche, and the adjustment’s hard on everyone.

First, there’s the weather. Hart ably details the brutal prairie winters, where eyelids have to be pried apart, snowstorms make prisons of homes, and even the family dog tries to avoid being outdoors. The physical cold parallels Lydia’s temperament as she navigates trials at home and school in nearby “Hicksville”. Lydia, the “ice queen,” warms to few people. Case in point: both she and Victoria refer to their parents by their first names, and teachers – when the girls do go to school - are ridiculed.

The cold and imprisonment are prominent themes. Lydia’s father keeps the house at ridiculously low temperatures, and the characters are constantly trying to warm via toques, dressing in layers, and building wood fires in the basement furnace, where six mummified woodpeckers explain the home’s “smell of death”. Through Lydia’s lens we see “urine-coloured walls,” and easily imagine the lingering smell in her bedroom - formerly used as a chicken coop.

Lydia feels school “is a prison encased in barbed wire”. The sky is “prison grey”. Back-to-school shopping is done at Saskatoon’s Army and Navy – an iconic store, now closed - where the girls select their “prison uniforms”. A smoke ring “hovers, like a noose,” over her father’s head.

The sisters are both outsiders and originals: they collect bottled shrew and mouse skeletons, Victoria veritably lives in an old pink housecoat, and the pair often hide out in their frigid home’s unfinished basement. But despite herself, Lydia also starts to appreciate things about the prairie: she learns that the first coyote yip “means it’s almost eleven,” and her iciness begins to melt when she connects with a local hockey player. Love, however, also proves another storm front: “If this is love, I hate it,” she says.

There’s plenty of humour here to help balance the tone, ie: when Lydia’s nominated as a school Snow Queen finalist, she says “… it is sort of flattering, I guess – like winning best pig at the country fair.”

The novel and its mercurial central character are best summed up by Lydia herself. “No one could possibly understand what I am going through,” she thinks. Any teenager who has felt the same – and show me one who hasn’t! - might be well served by reading this.

Shelley A. Leedahl