Barbara J. Taylor has done an extremely good job with this book. Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night was a dark, but enjoyable book to read, and I will be shocked if she isn’t nominated for some kind of award for her efforts.
Although I can’t speak for the American book scene, I know Canadian book critics and prize judges would go crazy over this. The story contains all the necessary themes that any award-winning Canadian book should contain, including famous historical moments, family tragedy, folklore, and of course a snowstorm. In fact, I’m curious whether Taylor has been reading a lot of Canadian historical fiction lately, because quite honestly this book has Canadian prizewinner written all over it.
Anyway, I digress. At the heart of the book is a family tragedy of two young daughters, one who dies in a terrible accident involving fireworks, with the other, younger daughter being blamed for it. Although people don’t come out and say it to the little girl (Violet), people suspect she was jealous of her older sister Daisy and threw the sparkler at her, which caused severe burns and her eventual death three days later.
The very thorough and helpful press kit that came with the book informed me that this fictional story was based on the real life occurrence of this firework accident, which happened to a family member of the author a few generations ago. I’m not sure why, but this makes the book more interesting to me to know this. Additionally, the climax of the book takes place when a famous baseball player turned Evangelist Billy Sunday comes to town on the night of a huge snowstorm, which also happened in real life. These two situations act as anchors for the plot line of the story, which helped give the narrative a nice shape, so as you continued reading the excitement was still building. Too many times, authors make the mistake of including the big tragedy at the beginning of the book, and then spend the rest of their story describing the fallout. Every once in awhile this works, although it takes a skilled writer to pull this off. Taylor doesn’t put herself in that difficult position because she includes enough plot twists and conflicts along the way to keep the pages turning.
Another tool that Taylor uses to deepen the plot are the intermittent chapters told from the church ladies’ perspectives. You never know who is actually speaking, but you get the sense that these very short interludes are written on behalf of all the gossipy, church-going women of the town, who count a few particularly difficult women as their leaders. So, although this particular group’s opinions are biased and snippy, these chapters help to paint the overall setting for the reader, and makes the small town of Scranton, Pennsylvania really come alive for the duration of the novel. Prize-winner or not, this book is worth the read!