At ten years old, Gwen is happy living with her father, albeit in dire poverty. At eleven years old, she is destitute. Author Carolyn Pogue wrote Gwen as a tribute to her grandmother, a “Home Child”, one of a hundred thousand children sent to Canada as indentured labourers.
Gwen has an adventurous attitude that makes the best of all circumstances. Her vision of Canada comes from the poetry of Pauline Johnson, a Mohawk princess, poet and dramatic performer. Gwen had seen Johnson perform on her tenth birthday when her father smuggled her backstage in a London theatre. As a consequence, Gwen’s most precious possession is a book of Johnson’s haunting poems of the Canadian landscape. For her, a chance to go to Canada seems to be a dream come true.
In Ontario, Gwen’s assignment as a maid in an upper-middle class family turns her dream to ashes – for a while at least. She is treated as an inferior servant, and finally provoked beyond bearing by male expectations, Gwen runs away through the countryside. In a surreal journey by foot, she sees herself experiencing first-hand the poetic visions painted by Pauline Johnson’s words. As she returns to “civilization”, the town, she finds the strength of character to be her own advocate, and she eventually wins the family she deserves. All is well.
This novel was written for young adults, thus Carolyn Pogue has treated many difficult issues that confronted Home Children with a light touch. Nevertheless, the narrative is a good one for parents to share with young teenagers. The gentle history lessons could inform both generations while they marvel at the resilience of the adventurous Gwen.
Just released in the fall was the sequel, West Wind Calling, set in Calgary.