Awards: Finalist – 2017 Governor General’s Literary Awards – Young People’s Literature– Text
“The Way Back Home” is a compelling young adult novel for mature readers of realistic fiction. Canadian author, Allan Stratton, has given his two main characters authentic voices that are both fiery and feisty. Zoe Bird is a sixteen-year old, bullied by classmates, and not believed at home or at school. Granny Bird is her proud grandmother struggling to stay in her own home despite the advancing signs of dementia. Zoe and Granny are the victims of these two themes as they share a love and understanding for each other. Zoe is able to connect with her grandmother by seeing the world as Granny sees it through her dementia; Granny is the only one who supports Zoe, offering her witty advice and unconditional love.
Caught in the middle between her parents who cannot cope with either her behaviour or Granny’s dementia, and her own love and promise to keep Granny out of a nursing, Zoe kidnaps Granny and braves the unknown, seamy side of Toronto to find help for Granny, an escape from the bullying, and an answer to the family secret. Along the way, Zoe and Granny find help, sympathy and hope from surprising strangers.
It is Zoe’s voice the reader hears, as she copes with her family, her school and the realities of elder care. Stratton writes about dementia from his own experience caring for his mother. The disorientation, confusion and family concerns are realistic and consistent with the progression of this disease.
Stratton provokes a wide range of emotions in his characters, – fear, anger, humiliation, trust, reconciliation, resilience, love, and caring; and, he makes his readers experience these, too. The dialogue between Zoe and her parents, or Zoe and her classmates, is often rude, sarcastic, riddled with slang and bordering on the offensive, but always authentic as it expresses her fear, sorrow, anger, and worry as she copes with the problems that threaten to overwhelm her. Throughout the heartbreak and tension, there are many moments of wit and humour. Zoe’s resilience is heroic. She is a victim we want to vindicate, support and cheer for! .
Stratton has given mature readers fully-developed characters, an engaging plot, and themes that are explored with sensitivity – family dynamics, school bullying, transgender and elder care issues. Stratton’s plot resolution is heart wrenching; yet, at the same time tender and hopeful. It is the powerful intergenerational love that brings healing to a fractured family, and is at the heart of this riveting novel.
For Mature readers, Senior High students, and Adults.