It’s Montreal, 1953, and eight-year-old Ellen, an only child prone to daydreaming, and her mother, a woman who believes in the promise of fresh starts, have moved into a large house on the flanks of Mt. Royal. To make ends meet, Ellen’s mother takes in a group of refugees from Central Europe, whose erratic behaviour and dark view of human nature captivate the young girl’s imagination. Ellen sees the refugees as a potential source of valuable information about her own background, of which she has heard little, except for a few stories about a lost golden civilization and the family’s distant connection to Sigmund Freud. The refugees soon leave to be replaced by Aunt Celia, a woman whose anxiety meter is permanently stuck at danger, and Ellen’s new stepfather, Dr. Henryk Steiner, whose years in the Soviet Union have earned him the title of “Playboy of the Communist World”.
While the adults wrangle with each other and the fallout from their past lives, Ellen sets her sights on exploring the brave new world of “America,” and on becoming a teenage femme fatale. Her quest takes her to Crescent Bay, Long Island, and into the placid lives of her American cousins and their friends. Supporting her along the way is her best friend Lydia, a fellow rebel whose mother, Magda, sets off a series of events that will alter the course of the two girls’ lives.
“Where Charney distinguishes herself is in her smart, playfully organic exploration of character.” - National Post
“[Charney] has crafted a witty, psychologically astute account of a girl growing into herself and her talents.” - Montreal Gazette
“Filled with sex and surprises … it deserves any jury’s attention.” - The Sun Times
“The voice of the narrator, Ellen, is strong and true, giving this delicious novel the ingenuous power of a memoir.” - Walrus
“[A] luminous coming-of-age narrative about the fleeting nature of friendship, the persistence of family, and growing up in Montreal in the 1950s and ’60s … Charney has written one of the most enduring novels of the season.” - Montreal Review of Books
“Charney uses her powers of subtle language and humour to keep the reader interested …the tone and the pace of the novel is unwavering and strong.” - Women’s Post
“Charney’s novel embodies the authentic feeling of a memoir … elegant.” - Herizons
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