Never Going Back

Canadian Literature 215 / Winter 2012

 Antonia Banyard’s debut novel Never Going Back revolves around five friends who reflect on the childhood experiences and memories that have shaped their adult lives. As Evan, Siobhan, Lea, Mandy, and Lance gather to commemorate the death of Kristy, Evan’s cousin, they begin to question the roles they may have played in her possible suicide and how they were blinded to the sexual abuse she endured from their teacher, Albert Hiller. The novel is set primarily in Nelson, BC, and is told from the perspectives of Evan, Siobhan, and Lance with the chapter titles signalling a shift between characters. Despite the change in point of view, the narrative remains in the third person, however, and sometimes, the nuances of each character are lost as a result. The beginning of the novel seems strained in places as Banyard develops her characters and their particular relationships to one another. Yet, as the plot unfolds, the initial awkwardness drops away and Banyard’s characters begin to drive the plot forward. Banyard’s talent for developing a multi-layered narrative of secrecy, betrayal, family conflict, and romance is impressive in this debut novel. Especially successful is the story of Siobhan who has kept in touch with Hiller throughout his incarceration; the continuing connection between student and teacher is particularly compelling in relation to his conviction, and the role he played in Kristy's death — a role Siobhan is either unaware or wilfully ignorant of. While at times I wanted a more intimate portrayal of small-town Nelson, I find the novel to be an important contribution to the continually evolving literary landscape of British Columbia.
— Mark Diotte

Geist Magazine,Issue 77, Summer 2010

Never Going Back by Antonia Banyard (Thistledown) suggests that baby boomers who went "back to the land," smoked pot and eschewed conventionality didn't do their kids any favours, except maybe to give them an appreciation of the spectacular natural beauty of the area around Nelson, British Columbia. Not all of Banyard's main characters are children of hippies, but they've all been deeply affected by the death, when they were teenagers, of their friend Kristy. Ten years later, when they return to Nelson for her memorial service, they discover that everyone has been keeping secrets about the events surrounding her death. Add to that some sexual tension, some existential angst and an impending birth, and you've got an interesting tale from a generation that grew up surrounded by what has become known as an "alternative lifestyle," but are just as hung up as their parents and grandparents were. — Patty Osbourne

Prairie Fire Review of Books, Vol 10, No 3 (2010)

Never Going Back is an intriguing novel presented in an interesting format, with the point of view alternating in different chapters among three friends, Evan, Siobhan and Lance. These three plus two others, Lea and Mandy, were inseparable friends during their high school years in the town of Nelson, BC. But now it's ten years later and all have gone their separate ways, formed new relationships and rarely communicate with each other. A reunion has been organized to hold a sort of memorial service and relocate the ashes of a sixth classmate, Kristy, who died in an accident — or was it one? — soon after the group's grade twelve graduation, an incident that was, to some extent, a pivotal point in the life of the others. Mandy and Lance still live in Nelson but the other three drive out from Vancouver to join them there. The city of Nelson, well known for its unconventional characters and alternative lifestyles, becomes one of the book's characters as well.

Through the alternating viewpoints and frequent flashbacks we gradually learn details about the family and past history of each character, as well as some of their present-day life. Siobhan is an aspiring photographer living with her boyfriend, but uncertain whether she wants to move east with him to pursue his career. Evan is a high-tech salesman who seems unwilling to make commitments and is dismayed when other people, such as his parents, do so. Kristy who was his cousin, had lived with his family for a time, and it is his mother who is organizing the memorial service.

Lance is the offspring of hippie parents who now live underground while their son supplies them with groceries and lives an unconventional life on his own, for his partner has recently moved out, leaving him depressed and nostalgic for the past. Meanwhile, Mandy is about to have a baby — the baby's father is no longer in the picture, or the country — and she is determined to give birth at home, with all her friends around her. Lea is a teacher in Vancouver, but has hang-ups of her own. All five need to deal with the fallout from Kristy's death and the secrets around it. There are also secrets about one of their teachers, Mr. Hillier, who had been tried and sentenced to prison around the same time, and these too need to be exposed. The young men and women all have to accept that perhaps they had some role in Kristy's death, and to come to terms with that and with leftover teenage angst that still plagues several of them.

Over the several days when the friends gather in Nelson, they gradually come to realize the significance ofKristy in their lives. Siobhan, for instance, realizes that “Life before that night was immeasurably different than after, though exactly what had changed is too slippery to grasp” (179).

I enjoyed this book, although I found the number of characters and personal problems hard to keep straight at times. The tone of the book is quite dark, but the characters and setting are engaging.

Vancouver writer Antonia Banyard's short works have been published in anthologies and literary magazines, and she has written a non-fiction book for children. Never Going Back is her first novel. — Donna Gamache

Donna Firby Gamache is a writer/retired teacher from MacGregor, Manitoba. Her newest work is Sarah: A New Beginning, a novel for children, loosely based on the coming of her great-grandparents to Canada in 1891.