Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Anna’s World
by Wim Coleman and Pat Perrin
ISBN 978-1-935178-06-4
Chiron Books

Winner of several awards including the Moonbeam Children's Book Awards, and a Reader Views Reviewers Choice Award. 'Anna's World' is a gentle coming of age story, based in a turbulent time in American history. The book combines history and fiction with a powerful message about moral choice.

It is 1845. Fourteen year old Anna Coburn has barely survived an attack of typhoid after a flood that has left many of her neighbours dead. Her country is on the verge of war with Mexico, but no one thinks she should talk about it. Faced with financial trouble, her father sends her to live at a Shaker village.

The austere life expected of her with the Shakers upsets Anna at first - it is a world of forced segregation between sexes, prolonged periods of enforced silence, hard labour and limited contact with the 'World'. Precocious Anna finds life here tedious and oppressive. Yet, she finds friends and kindred spirits too - Sister Zenobia, the charismatic brother Seth, and celebrated author Henry David Thoreau himself. And, despite her many apprehensions, Anna turns out to be more Shaker than she realizes. When she leaves the village to join her father and his new wife in Boston, she finds the outside world both unpleasant and morally conflicted. Newly wealthy, her father expects Anna to lead a life of leisure like other girls her age and social status. Slavery exists as well as apathy for the people of Mexico, being slaughtered in a war with the USA that they are unprepared for. Worse, Anna's father‘s fortune is built on this very war, in partnership with a man who has betrayed the Shakers and threatened her life. Even as Anna struggles to reconcile her life with her beliefs, she is thrown into danger again.

The plot makes a smooth trajectory from history to mystery, weaving in some very powerful observations on moral choices and conviction in one’s beliefs. Anna is a compelling protagonist, sensitive and aware, and through her eyes the reader is offered a child’s eye view of two vastly different worlds. Neither the ‘World’ nor Shaker life is ideal, and the narrative deftly reveals Anna’s growing maturity as she learns to question and negotiate the hurdles she confronts in each. I especially liked the way a real historical figure, Thoreau, was introduced into the story, guiding Anna gently along on the journey she takes in this book toward finding herself and her calling.

There is a telling metaphor about Shaker shoes, which are made identical for either foot. Like Shaker life itself, the shoes do not fit Anna at first, and cause her discomfort. Yet by the end she finds she has grow into them.

*spoiler alert*

A heartwarming and thought provoking book about life, growing up and finding purpose.