Before I get into the actual review, I wanted to point out some exciting news; this book is published by Stonehouse Publishing, a brand new Alberta publisher based out of Edmonton! Very exciting (and a little bit crazy) right? Besides opening a new independent bookstore, opening up a small fiction press is probably one of the riskiest ventures right now, but I commend Stonehouse for their bravery, and we in the Alberta writing community should do all we can to make sure they succeed. So, check out their website right now and buy a few books to show your support.
So now you’re wondering how I can give an honest review if I’m so excited about the publisher-trust me, I can do this. But of course I wouldn’t be so excited about this publisher if I didn’t love the books they’ve sent me so far. That was a bit of a spoiler, sorry about that.
Kalyna is one of a few books they’ve sent me to review, and overall I really enjoyed it. It’s an engaging story of historical fiction, with it’s plot rooted in the true history of Alberta. It begins with the treacherous journey of the young couple Katja and Wasyl coming from the Ukraine to Canada to create a homestead on the prairies once they hear of the free land being offered. The process of building a home and living off the prairies is of course a difficult one, so this portion of the book is really fascinating. Then, (again, this is based on true history), Wasyl is interned in a work camp in Banff and Katja is left to take care of the children and their farm alone during the harsh Canadian winter. Needless to say, Katja’s struggles of raising kids while living off the land made me feel quite lazy as a young mother with all the resources we now enjoy. I doubt this was Clark’s intention, but it did remind me of the hundreds of amenities we have to be thankful for.
The book takes an interesting turn with about 60 pages left to go-it introduces the child named Kalyna, (the namesake of the book) who is now an adult. If I explain any further it will give away the plot, but this late-in-the book shift did surprise me: especially because the book is named after this character. Why give her so little time to develop as a character for the reader? Also, at the beginning of the book there was another jump in time, where for a page and a half, we are pushed three or four years ahead, but then brought back to the ‘present day’, which I also found confusing.
The book was well-written all the way through, but I did find these two issues prevented me from looking back on this novel and calling it a ’10 out of 10′. They are minor qualms, but it does signal to me that the story could have done with a stronger edit.
Regardless, Kalyna was an enjoyable read. The characters were brilliantly developed, and the strength of Katja in particular still resonates with me even days after I finished reading. Even the handsome rogue Dr. Smith was appealing, although he creates many problems for the struggling family. Not only was it a page-turner, but it details a part of our Canadian history that not many will know about, so it’s achieved the near-impossible feat of being fun to read, but educational as well.