Real, Raw and Loving
In one weekend, I was able to hunker down and read both Heather Smith’s newest young adult titles. Starting with The Agony of Bun O’Keefe I was struck by the honesty of her writing.
The year is 1986, the place is Newfoundland and Bun O’Keefe is a fourteen year old girl living off the grid with her mother, a hoarder, in a home stuffed to the rafters with shopping. She’s asthmatic, naive, and uneducated and when her mother tells her to “Get out!”, she does. She hitchhikes all the way to St. John’s. Her only understanding of the world comes from the books and the movies her mother brings home in her wagon each day. She sets off looking for a Mission and thankfully finds Busker Boy, an Innu man making a living with his guitar on the streets of St. John’s. Busker Boy sees the naivety in Bun and brings her home with him, introducing her to a whole host of characters who all live together under the roof of the Landlord, or Dragon Man. There is Chef training by day to take on the culinary world but is melancholy, there is Cher/Chris who is so nurturing and kind but not welcome at his home because his dad doesn’t agree with his lifestyle, and there is Big Eyes who has a dark secret and can no longer face her religious zealot of a mother. Together they educate Bun, taking care of her and teaching her about the world around her. It’s certainly not all roses, Bun has to face some very hard realities but Busker Boy treats her as a little sister. He keeps her safe and loves her in a way her mother never could.
The beauty in Heather Smith’s writing is her honesty. She tells the hard truths and provides a mirror to young people. There is beauty in the heartbreak of Bun’s story. Bun may be naive but she is so emotionally intelligent. She fiercely defends her new family when they are wronged. There is a real quality and something so relatable in each of the characters. Maybe you see your younger self reflected in Bun. Perhaps you feel the same pain as Chef. Maybe you are holding onto a haunting secret and just need to know you are not alone on your journey. There is so, so much love in this story. As difficult as the subject matter can be at times, there is always love. The cast of real and raw characters become a family, they sacrifice for each other and they teach Bun there is so much more to the world then what her sheltered life has taught her to this point. They rejoice in each other’s triumphs and grieve in each other’s sorrows. A definite must read