Friday, April 19, 2013

Solace of the Road - Siobhan Dowd

Solace is defined as comfort or consolation in a time of distress, and this is a story about a girl in distress who takes Solace in the the new identity that she creates for herself; strong, confident "Solace of the Road".

Teenagers all too often find themselves in situations that are beyond their comprehension, situations that a child should never have to deal with.  In this novel we follow a fourteen year old girl whose mother has abandoned her, leaving her in a group home with friends who are just as emotionally damaged as she is.  Her real name is Holly Hogan and she believes that she and her mother were just separated and since Holly is in London and her mother is in Ireland, her mom just hasn't been able to find her again.  Holly has a lot of anger that she doesn't quite know what to do with so she puts on a front, acts like she is strong and doesn't care.
She is sent home with yet another foster family and is sure that it wont work out.  She finds a wig in her foster mothers drawer and when she puts it on she is able to transform herself into someone else, give herself another identity as 'Solace'.  So she decides to run away, make her way to Ireland and reunite with her mother, who obviously is desperate to have her back (sarcasm).  On her journey she has moments of empowerment when she is sure that this is the best thing for her, sure that she can be this other person, Solace, and leave her pain behind.  There are other times when she feels the weight of her loneliness and the memories of her mother come back to her.  She meets a lot of people along the way, mostly good people who help her out but by the time she reaches the ferry to cross over to Ireland she is exhausted, out of money and can no longer believe the lies that she tells herself to keep the painful truth about her mother at bay.
This story has an extremely well developed character, she is complex and full of emotion and expresses it in ways that I think a lot of teens can empathize with.  You don't have to be in foster care to understand the feelings of alienation,  loneliness and desire to be someone else and break free from your life.  This book deals with some very heavy issues and it does so gracefully and with beautiful prose and imagery, nothing cheesy about it.  There is a lot to discuss here for an English class and I definitely think that this is a classroom quality text, probably 9th or 10th grades.
 The only downside is the heavy use of British slang, I would strongly recommend a translation be handed out to students before reading ( This should help.) I didn't even know what a lot of the slang was referring to and it can be distracting to have to figure that out rather than focus on the important stuff. While they would figure out pretty quickly that 'quid' is money and 'carebabe' means 'foster kid' I wouldn't expect your average high school student to know that 'Lorry' is brit for semi-truck, or  'horses for courses' means 'to each his own', and it should be made very clear that a fag is a cigarette.  In general a lot of the subtleties of conversation and smaller details will be lost in translation.

Even so, the translations won't take away the strength of the message or the ability to analyze it in a classroom.  I think it would be interesting to analyze coping mechanisms, such as revising our memories or pretending to be someone else. Overall an excellent book well worth reading at any age and definitely classroom worthy.


Clarice Howard said...

When you talked about the slang that was used it made me think of the novel Feed we read earlier in the semester. I remember that a lot of students said that they had trouble with the unique slang that was used. I think, as you said, that it would be helpful if there was a guide that had all of the translations of the words. I think this can be useful/helpful to students because it can get them in the habit of looking up unfamiliar words. So in order for the students to understand the story they need to look up these words and this can develop a good learning skill that will continue as they read other novels or anything they read. They will learn how important words are and something can have a completely different meaning if these words are not understood.

Sean Andrew said...

I think that there should be more novels like this out there, where all readers can find almost another identity within themselves while reading. It seems like the character is someone everyone can relate to on some level. I also think the idea of handing out a sheet with the slang translations on it would be perfect. As Clarice said, it would give students the opportunity to get familiar with the process of looking up unfamiliar words and give them to chance to ask someone else for help, if need be.

Leslie Shambo said...

I am really intrigued by this novel. I think the themes of isolation and alienation are ones most students can relate to as they move through the sometimes cruel world that can be high school, but I think even more than that, the novel seems to address the changing American family, and the fact that many students don't live with both parents. Last week, I observed an activity in a high school English class in which students were asked to stand on either side of a duct tape line placed on the floor. The teacher read a series of statements, and if the statement applied, students were asked to step onto the line. I can't tell you how many students stepped onto that line when the teacher read the lines, "If your parents are divorced," or "If you live with only one biological parent." There was one girl in the class who had been adopted, and she was the only student who stepped on the line when the teacher said, "If you don't live with either biological parent." Afterward, she expressed her feelings of isolation to the class, saying, "I didn't realize I was the only one. It makes me feel a bit sad." I think books such as this one can be helpful and allow students to realize that they are not alone.

I did not realize that this was the author's final novel before died from breast cancer at the age of 47. She requested that the royalties from her books go into a trust for disadvantaged children, to help them discover the joy of reading (see this blog post for more: I am inspired that she not only wrote novels that helped children find the hero within, but did so in real life as well.