1708 Timmys, truckers, strippers
Sisters of the North: A modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility
by Emily Kirkham
Edmonton: Dragon Hill Publishing, 2022
$21.95 / 9781896124803
Reviewed by Cara Faganello
Sisters of the North: A Modern Retelling of Sense and Sensibility by Emily Kirkham is a delicious reimagining of Jane Austen classic’s classic novel of 1811. Fans of the Austen original will find themselves swept away in a modern version of the tale, with a dash of British Columbian flavour. Those who haven’t had the pleasure of being introduced to Sense and Sensibility will soon find themselves in the thick of drama, romance, betrayal and lies. Set in a northern BC town ironically called Sober, the story follows Ellie and Val Dashwood, two sisters who couldn’t be more different. Ellie is selfless and practical, focusing on her career and generally avoiding any attempts at romance. Her job as a welder and one of the few women working for Sober Oil allows her to keep her head down and work hard, all while warding off unwelcome male attention. In her off-hours, she can be found on the ice rink, skating circles around the men. Val is a waitress at Sober’s strip club, the Northern Bush. She has dreams of studying ballet, despite being told her high school grades were not high enough for her to be accepted into a ballet school. She lacks the wariness that Ellie has and wears her heart on her sleeve, ready to speak her mind and express herself freely.
Despite their differences, both Ellie and Val have dreams of leaving Sober (a “hick town,” as they call it) to pursue higher education. It all seems within reach; Ellie has been saving up to make this a reality for both herself and Val. However, their plans are soon derailed when their father abruptly drops dead. A scheming alcoholic forever trying to make a quick buck, Dave Dashwood has nothing to leave his daughters except for a pile of debt and worthless knick knacks. John, the sisters’ only living relative, is eager to see Ellie and Val moved out of their father’s home because his in-laws, the notorious, big-city Price family, are eager to purchase the land on which the house sits and develop condos. John offers to pay off their father’s debts if they agree to move out of the house and into an affordable trailer on the back lot of his wife’s aunt and uncle’s property. The solution is less than appealing to both Ellie and Val; but in the end, they are left with no choice and must undergo the daunting task of sorting through their father’s collection of junk, pack up their lives, and move.
Amidst the chaos of death and moving, with potential homelessness looming over her, Ellie meets her love interest, Edward, in the most Canadian way possible: in a Tim Hortons queue. Wary at first, she is eventually worn down by Edward’s kindness and, most importantly, by his offer to arrange to have her truck window repaired by his mechanic. The two soon settle into a routine of pizza dates and sleepovers, as Ellie finds herself falling in love with this handsome, mysterious, big city stranger. Meanwhile, the death of her father has propelled Val to make some changes of her own. Behind her sister’s back, she asks her manager if she can trade her serving tray for stripper heels and become a dancer at the Bush. Her manager agrees begrudgingly and Val is eager to impress. It is through this new job that she meets Will Davis, a slick, Dodge Charger driving patron at the club. Like Edward, Will is mysterious and exciting, albeit a little dangerous. Wanting to leave her father’s death, the difficulty of her new role at the Bush, and her new trailer home behind, Val throws herself into this relationship, much to the chagrin of her older sister.
It soon becomes apparent that everything is not as it seems. Ellie and Val find themselves confronted by secrets from their boyfriends’ pasts that threaten to burst their cozy bubble of bliss. Ellie’s job may be in danger, thanks to the meddling Price family’s endeavours, while Val’s drinking and recklessness begin to careen towards dangerous. Will enables Val’s behaviour, causing Ellie no end of worries. Edward’s friend and personal mechanic Brandon hints at dark secrets from Val’s boyfriend’s past and present, which Val ignores. Ellie’s own romance is on the rocks as Edward has to leave Sober abruptly to deal with a matter so serious and private he is unable to breathe a word of it to her. Ellie is left confused, hurt and alone in her struggle to care for her younger sister. Val’s own romance implodes, resulting in an explosive confrontation, a near-death encounter, and a ballet performance the two sisters won’t soon forget.
Kirkham has a way of weaving the most delightful characteristics into a colourful array of characters that can brighten up even this coldest, dreariest Northern BC town. She has a remarkable ability to take the reader on an enthralling journey of hope and disappointment and heartbreak and love, sprinkling in a dash of mystery and adventure. Kirkham spins Austen’s classic in a grittier, down-to-earth manner that will not only captivate the Canadian reader but readers everywhere. The story opens on a high and never slows down. Kirkham drops subtle hints near the last half of the book, tantalising the reader, before building up to a brilliant and explosive climax as secrets are laid bare and lies are exposed. Edward’s hidden past is Kirkham’s best-kept secret and the reveal will delight readers. Jane Austen would be pleased.
Cara Faganello was born and raised in Nanaimo, British Columbia. She grew up listening to stories of her grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ early days on Vancouver Island, where they did everything from fishing and coal mining to selling eggs and making wine. Her love of reading and history led her to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in History and English from Vancouver Island University and a Master of Arts in History from Western University, where her thesis followed a young First World War soldier from Vancouver to the battlefields of France. When she’s not consumed by a stack of novels or her own writing projects, Cara is most likely being followed around the house or garden by her cats and dog and her wonderfully patient sweetheart, Lee.
The British Columbia Review
Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.
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