That Boy Red by Rachna Gilmore (Red Cedar Book 2012)

I have to be completely honest here. I am a Rachna Gilmore fan. Seriously, I have never read anything of hers I did not love. One of my all time favorite books is A Group of One. If you haven’t read it go straight to your local book store or library and get it. (After you read this of course)

So it was weird that I wasn’t sure at first if I would like That Boy Red. It starts out slow and the historical setting is different from what I am used to with her work.

However, after a few pages I was riveted by the story of eleven-year-old Red MacRae and his family. Red is growing up on a farm in Prince Edward Island during the great depression of the 1930’s. While life isn’t easy for the family, they not only survive, they manage to help out their less fortunate neighbors. The book spans one tumultuous year in the family’s life. It is a collection of vignettes highlighting a number of events that play an important role in Red’s life.

Red is a spunky scalawag who is prone to getting into trouble. His hijinks will, for the most part, send you into gales of laughter. I dare you to keep a straight face while reading how Red, and his brother, Mac, drop their grandmother’s treasured lock of hair into cow manure, try to clean it and end up trying to substitute horse hair for it. At other times, like when he gets lost in a winter storm and ends up holed up in a neighbor’s outhouse to escape the blizzard, you are likely to alternate between admiration, admonishment and amusement. Unfortunately, Red’s antics are not always benign. When he and a friend tricked his little sister into thinking she had killed him, it ended up causing the community great distress and nearly led to disaster. 

Red’s parents value education. Despite the disparaging opinions of other farmers, Mr. and Mrs. MacRae took out a loan to send Ellen, their oldest child, away to school. Now she works as the local schoolteacher to earn money to pay for Alex, the eldest boy, to go away to university. As you can imagine, it isn’t easy having your older sister as your teacher. Some of the predicaments Red finds himself in are a direct result of this. 

This is a lovely coming of age tale. Readers will enjoy peeking in on this year of Red’s life as he matures, learns from his mistakes and comes to appreciate himself, his family, his community, and his own place in it.

This book reminded me of Farley Mowat’s book, Owls in the Family. If you liked it you will like this.

I am happy to say that Rachna Gilmore didn’t let me down.

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