Upon finishing this novel I was reminded of this line by Sherman Alexie, "If it's fiction it must be true."
Scarborough is a diverse cultural community within Toronto, Ontario, a major city in Canada. This novel is about a low income community who live in or near a shelter in the neighbourhood. It centres around a group of families and children who live in the shelter and attend a literacy/breakfast program run by a Muslim woman, Miss Hina.
Hina and three children, Laura, Sylvie and Bernard, the primary characters, are introduced to us first.
Laura's mother packs up Laura and her things and drops her off at a bowling alley for her father, Cory, to pick her up. Cory is a poor, white, alcoholic, aging skinhead. He loves his daughter, but has no idea how to be a parent.
Sylvie, an indigenous child, and her mother, Marie, are rushing home to the shelter from a doctor's appointment where Maria was trying to get help for her three year old, Johnny, who she knows has something wrong with him.
Bing, a gifted Filipino boy, waits for his mother, Edna, in the nail salon where she works, and remembers the day they fled from his crazed father.
Hina is hired for the position of Program Facilitator at the Rouge Hill Public School location of the Ontario Reads Literacy Program.
Their stories unfold through multiple perspectives. Not only do we see the world through the lenses of these primary characters, we see it through the eyes of their parent’s and other front line workers. This patchwork of voices enables the reader to more fully comprehend the inhabitants, how they function individually and as a collective. It reads like a series of connected vignettes that grabbed me by the throat and forced me to bear witness to these many different lives as they experience racism, despair, tragedy, friendship, and success. As a teacher I understand that parents, except in very rare circumstances, always do the best they can for their children. Despite the hardships, this is abundantly clear here.
I cried. I laughed. I rejoiced.
For some of these children, their lives only get better when they die. This line near the end, continues to haunts me.
"It feels so good to hug someone who will never hit you."
Hernandez' writing is brilliant. In an interview with Susan G. Cole from Now, she stated, "If I’m not shit-disturbing, what’s the fucking point in writing?” I hope she continues doing both for a very long time.