Buy As She Grows
Special: $10.92 CAD (Regular price: $12.00 CAD)
Publisher: Puffin Canada
Reviewer: Melissa on June 15, 2010
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Snow may only be 15, but she’s had a difficult life from the very beginning. Her mother died just after she was born in an apparent drowning, so this young teen has been forced to take care of her drunken, half crazy grandmother most of the time and has never known what it’s like to be loved. In her debut novel, As She Grows, Lesley Anne Cowan writes the difficult, but ultimately hopeful story, of Snow’s decision to take control of her life, including a pregnancy, and its consequences. Along the way, this teen certainly makes mistakes, as we all do. Simultaneously, Snow learns truths about her history that will cause further set backs, but even in a world replete with ugliness, Cowan shows us that there is beauty to be found. You can win a copy of the second book in the series, called Something Wicked.
I have to admit that AsSheGrows was one of the hardest that I’ve read in a long time. It would be easy for many readers to pass it off as being completely dark, but I think that this interpretation would be a mistake. Why? Well, throughout the novel, there are moments in which we see either through Snow’s perspective or through her youth workers and teachers that she isn’t like the other girls in her group home. Whatever decision she makes will, often, be difficult, and yet, she makes one, refusing to let life just happen to her.
Earlier I mentioned that Cowan shows us among all the hard life questions and ugly family histories, but there is beauty as well in Snow’s life. One such instance of the latter is a dream/flashback sequence, which demonstrates the innocence of a 5-year-old Snow, who doesn’t understand that it is only her mother’s ashes in a container: “I look down, feel the cool plastic against my bare five-year-old thighs, and contemplate a miniature mother I have never met, trapped inside that container” (3). Though in the midst of a scene that is quite messed up, Snow’s innocence is something that Cowan needs us to remember. She wants readers to know that all teen mothers started with a blank slate; they weren’t born to be bad seeds, but some circumstances in their pasts have hardened them, almost beyond recognition.
Often, the best moments to demonstrate the beauty in Snow’s ugly world are those where she speaks to the baby growing inside her. In these tender moments, Cowan uses juxtaposition of the positive dreams Snow has for her baby with the ugly reality of Snow’s past experiences:
The words that come out of my mouth will be good-mother words. I will understand you. I will tell you to go ahead and cry if it’s over nothing because you don’t have to be a big girl until you are one. And I won’t throw the mashed potatoes against the wall if you don’t like them. And I won’t make you kneel on a cheese grater if you wet your bed, and I’ll agree that maybe it is the end of the world if you don’t find your purple crayon, because who’s to say it’s not? (141)
Perhaps she doesn’t know what a good mother is, but every mother-to-be, despite their own experiences, has a pretty good idea of what a good mother isn’t. Cowan’s first realistic teen novel in the series shows at-risk girls that, sometimes, this knowledge is a big part of what they need.
Even 24 hours after finishing As She Grows, I can tell that Cowan’s first novel is still affecting me; it’s still causing me to ponder questions that came up as I was reading it, and I imagine that these thoughts will continue for some time to come. This novel is powerful. It is a debut novel that really deserved to be shortlisted for the 2001 Chapters/Robertson Davies First Novel Contest, and thankfully, it was. If you haven’t already, you should read AsSheGrows and the second novel in the series, called Something Wicked, or recommend them to some troubled teens. Cowan’s novels may just be the saving grace these teens need.
Buy As She Grows