Buy The Unquiet Past
Special price $13.38 Regular price: $14.95
Publisher: Orca Books
Reviewer: Melissa on October 1, 2015
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
It’s the beginning of June in 1964, and the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls burns to the ground. The vulnerable residents are thrust out into the world: new homes are found for the youngest girls, but the seven oldest orphans are given a few clues about their origins, $138 each, and the hope that they’ll find out something about their identities. Seven different Canadian YA authors, six of whom are women, get to tell the story of the oldest female orphans. Together, these seven books form the Secrets series, which were released simultaneously on September 29, 2015. One such author is Kelley Armstrong, who gets to tell the story of Tess. In Armstrong’s contribution to the series The Unquiet Truth, Tess learns that she can only hide the truth about who she is and why she has strange visions and recurring nightmares for so long. For as long as she can remember, these waking visions and bad dreams have tormented her, making her question her sanity. They make her wonder whether she inherited something terrible from the parents she has never known. In order to find out the truth, she’ll have to leave the only home she has ever known in Hope, Ontario. Along the way to her destination, she’ll be exposed to dangers the likes of which she could never imagine.
Before picking up The Unquiet Truth, I had never read anything by Kelley Armstrong, even though she is one of the most prolific Canadian authors of both YA and adult paranormal fiction. This book’s description immediately drew me into the book with it’s mix of Gothic and contemporary themes. In addition, the creepy, illustrated cover with fingers scratching through the cover art made me want to know more, so when I was offered the chance to review the entire series for a magazine, I jumped at the chance. When this experience led to an opportunity to feature Armstrong on my blog as part of the official Secrets blog tour, I couldn’t pass it up. If you’ve read either Armstrong’s contribution to the series or any of the other six books written by Eric Walters, Teresa Toten, Vicki Grant, Marthe Jocelyn, Norah McClintock, and Kathy Kacer, you’ll understand why.
Tess’ only clues are a disconnected phone number and an address, which lead her to a creepy mansion / abandoned insane asylum in Sainte-Suzanne, Quebec. Getting to her destination isn’t as easy as it might seem, especially for a young and pretty teen, who is on her own for the first time. Once she finally arrives at her destination, Armstrong pulls out all the stops to transport Tess, and the reader, from the everyday world into the uncanny one of the mostly abandoned building in Sainte-Suzanne. I say mostly because when she arrives there, Tess meets a Métis guy, named Jackson, who helps her track down information about her mom and what happened at the address in question.
During their search, Tess and Jackson attempt to interview many of the townspeople of Sainte-Suzanne to get to the bottom of what happened in the abandoned mansion. In addition, Tess’ psychic abilities help them further deduce what happened there 16 years ago and take them back to Montreal and McGill University’s Psychiatric department. From there, things go from pretty creepy to so much worse. Add in the allusions to some of the best Classic literature featuring Gothic concepts, themes, and sub-plots, such as Dracula, Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry and prose, and the mad woman in the attic of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and it becomes abundantly clear that Armstrong is well versed in the Gothic literary canon and knows how to develop suspense in her readers. Through it all, I was just as invested in Tess’ story and finding out not only how her mom ended up in Sainte-Suzanne, especially when I realized that some of the sensory deprivation experiments mentioned really happened in Montreal.
Finally, not only is it set in a period of Tess and Jackson’s lives that is characterized by change, but also one where society is in a state of intense upheaval, reflecting the “personal is political” manifesto from second wave feminism. These changes are represented by Armstrong in the dangers that Tess faces by being a vulnerable girl on her own and the racial tension that Jackson experiences in small town Québec. Even in Jackson’s interactions with more progressive people, like a group of hippies who give him and Tess a lift, their understanding of First Nations people is based on little more than stereotypes and the belief that one group is identical to every other one. They have no idea that the Métis people and even other Native groups are distinct societies and thus, don’t have the same traditions as each other. In other words, even the most progressive people of the time had a lot to improve upon when it came to race relations, even in Canada, a country that prides itself on having a better history than that of the USA.
From the characters and paranormal magic to the Gothic perfection and tension between personal and societal changes, The Unquiet Past is the kind of book that Canadians must read if we ever hope to grow from the past that keeps knocking on the door to the present and future of our country.
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