A Can of Humor and Warmth
(A Book Review of Polly Horvath’s The Canning Season)
Thirteen year old Ratchet Clark is a girl living in a windowless and grimy “sub-basement apartment” in Pensacola, Florida with her self-centered mom Henriette who has an unreasonable longing to become a member of the classy Hunts Club. Named after a tool by her mother to spite her no-good father, forbidden to make friends, with Cheerios as her only source of sustenance and taught at an early age to be mortally ashamed of ‘That Thing” on her shoulder, indeed, Ratchet lives a miserable life. As summer kicks in, Ratchet is unceremoniously dropped off by her mother to spend vacation with her great-second cousins in Maine, relatives she hasn’t even heard of.
Once in Glen Rosa, an isolated house next to the ocean and a sprawling estate surrounded by woods infested with bears, Ratchet meets the nonagenarian twin sisters Penpen and Tilly who, surprisingly, can still drive despite their age, has a phone that only allows incoming calls, have made a pact with each other to die together whenever the time comes, and delights in their reputation as the “queer Menuto women.” In no time at all, the shy and timid Ratchet, with another young outcast named Harper, quickly becomes accustomed to the farm life of milking cows, taking care of the chickens, gardening and picking up blueberries in time for the caning season. This odd cast of characters will form an unlikely family of sorts all the while learning from one another. Both Ratchet and Harper’s lives will be changed forever as they slowly discover about surprising things about love and belonging but more importantly about themselves.
Contrasting themes of age and youth, selfish and caring adults, isolation against how technology links the world, The Caning Season, 2003 winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, by Polly Horvath takes us into some of the most outrageous situations of bizarre family stories alongside comic and horrific incidents and characters facing rejection, loss and longing, that gives the book its humor and warmth with a few fits of giggles enough to keep the reader curious to find out what happens next. It’s a completely satisfying read and a story that seems to continue past its thoughtful sweet ending.