Shelter: A Novel (Free Press, 2012) is a moving novel by Frances Greenslade that chronicles the struggles of sisters Maggie and Jenny after their father is killed in a logging accident and their mother drops them off to visit friends…never to return.
Set in Duchess Creek, Canada in the 1970’s, the story of Shelter is told from Maggie’s POV. The novel begins with what appears to be a normal family life, followed by their father’s untimely death and abandonment by the girls’ mother.
Maggie and Jenny grow into two very different adolescents, with Maggie developing a friendship with local loner Vern George and they build a makeshift shelter in the woods. When Jenny becomes pregnant and is shipped off to a home for unwed mothers, Maggie embarks on her own journey to uncover the fate (and perhaps a location) of their mother.
Shelter is beautifully written with a theme of what makes a good mother, loyal sisters, strong women, and the true meaning of home and family. Some of the scenes brought tears to my eyes, and it wasn’t difficult to develop a mental picture of the characters, plot, and setting.
This novel isn’t “light reading,” but an intense story of the effects of children abandoned by their parents (be it via death or other circumstances), the struggles of two sisters trying to fill a void left by tragedies “which came in threes,” and questions which need serious answers.
Shelter is Greenslade’s debut novel (she’s also written two memoirs), but its outstanding prose and intense writing shows great promise for future novels.