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Fran Kimmel on Troubled Childhood

Fran Kimmel writes and teaches in central Alberta, Canada. The Shore Girl, her debut novel, was chosen as a Canada Reads Top 40 book and winner of the 2013 Alberta Readers’ Choice Award. Her stories  appear in literary journals and textbooks in Canada and Denmark. Kimmel is a passionate supporter of libraries, and serves as chair of the youth committee for the Writers’ Guild of Alberta.

"I believe we’re held together by fragile connections and too often these are broken in childhood," says Kimmel.

"I met many broken children during my early career when I worked as a youth worker and director of a Boys and Girls Club. Some of my daughters’ friends came from pretty rough homes, too, and I hated having to send them back. But these same kids found an inner strength that often left me speechless. I’m astounded by what children are able to endure and how they can end up okay. It’s this inexplicable resilience — this tenacity of spirit — that I seem to be drawn to again and again in my writing."

Fran Kimmel offers three good books on the theme of troubled childhood:

Rush Home Road
by Lori Lansens

Toronto writer Lori Lansens burst onto the literary scene in 2002 with her first novel Rush Home Road. At a trailer park near Lake Erie, we meet an ailing and lonely elderly black woman named Addy Shadd. Addy’s neighbor dumps her neglected five-year-old Sharla on Addy’s doorstep and then vanishes without a trace. Over time, a reluctant yet tender and courageous connection is formed between this older woman and little girl. We learn heartbreaking details from both their troubled childhoods. There’s a scene that haunts me to this day where baby Sharla gets her fingers jammed between the crib and the wall, and though she cries and cries, her mother never comes. Sharla has lived through unspeakable horrors, and Addy has tragic secrets of her own, yet somehow they manage to create a loving sense of home that transforms both their lives.   

A Complicated Kindness
by Miriam Toews

This book generated much excitement in Canada, earning critical acclaim, a Governor General’s Award, and the winning spot for CBC’s popular national reading program, Canada Reads. I quickly came to love 16-year-old Nomi Nickel, as she struggled to come to terms with her disintegrating family. Both her mother and sister had fled their Mennonite town with its abundance of strict rules, leaving Nomi to fend for herself while keeping an eye on her bumbling, neglectful father. Nomi is defiant, yet vulnerable, and her reflections on life are both hilarious and heartbreaking. Like so many kids I’ve known with troubled childhoods — loss piled upon loss — Nomi doesn’t give up her quest to find love and acceptance and things beautiful.

Oliver Twist
by Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist affected me deeply when I was a little girl.  I don’t own this book, but I do remember borrowing it from the library, and staying up long past my bedtime to devour the pages. It’s a well-known, good versus evil story. An orphaned boy lives in a badly run workhouse where there is never enough food. “Please sir, I want some more,” is one of literature’s most famous lines. Oliver escapes to London, meets a gang of pickpockets, and struggles to survive before finally being rescued by long-lost family members. I remember lying in bed, so terrified for Oliver’s future that I thought my heart would stop beating. This book was my first exposure to a world in which innocent children could be trapped without options. Oliver had been abused and neglected and yet he never lost grace. This was amazing to me, and much of my writing over the years has explored how light can shine in even the darkest of corners.    

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