Lesia’s Dream by Laura Langston, was a great read for our teen book club. I think it is one of the strongest historical fiction works I’ve read that is set in Canada. Our historical fiction seems to lack the robust selection that other countries have. The writing is often thin and leaves me with a sense that it was published to fill a gap rather than because of the strength of the work.
Lesia, on the other hand, reaches out from the page and hauls you along with her on her journey from the Ukraine to the prairies:
A life of pride. A life with land. A life where no one dies of hunger or ravaged by a sickness made strong by malnutrition and overwork. That is Lesia and Ivan’s dream, and they’ve convinced their parents to move to Canada to pursue it. But they’re Ukrainian, and Canada isn’t convinced it likes immigrants who are peasants in places far from England.
This book about an immigrant’s pioneer story is a refreshing addition to the Little House genre. It adds a layer of gritty reality to the rose-coloured glasses too often worn by authors looking at the era when we broke the prairie sod.
Lesia is refreshingly active in this book. Not someone taken on the journey by her family, she’s driving them forward, hustling for food, shoveling the dirt, harvesting the plants. She and her brother Ivan have the idea to leave the Ukraine that changes her family’s lives, and the sense of responsibility that she labours under is well-written. This is a real strength of the book – she stands in sharp contrast to the legions of whiny and reticent kids who populate the pioneer genre.
I think the mixing of the pioneer story with the internment camps of WWI adds real interest, even for those readers who’ve soaked themselves in pioneer stories. The prejudice in this story against the Ukrainians is staggering, and yet handled deftly. I never once felt crushed by it.
I’d highly recommend this to anyone looking for a good novel to complement a study of North American history. I’m glad to have found a book that covers so much ground for my Manitoba unit study!