This post is one in a series about Always Brave, Sometimes Kind (now available for pre-order!).
When people ask me what this book is about, I’m always a little stumped. Sure, there’s a description you can read if you follow the above link, but still there’s the question – what’s the story? Truth is, when I wrote Always Brave, Sometimes Kind, I did it with the goal of writing a book about my home and about the people who live here. I wanted to write about Alberta, and we have no one narrative.
So, to answer some questions about what it’s “about,” I’m introducing the stories that make up the novel including trivia and information that didn’t make it into the book.
Let’s jump into “The Cold Blisters Her Skin.”
“Mom keeps talking, but Zoe pretends she can’t hear. She wishes she could be like that shrub they left behind, knees crisscross-applesauce and eyes closed like a Tibetan monk on a mountaintop, hands flippin’ the bird. Talk about inner peace.”
Set in 2009, The Cold Blisters the Skin is a story told from three points of view: Zoe, a young girl on her way home from a leadership conference; Miranda, a seventeen-year-old singer-songwriter on her way to an Edmonton Canada’s Got Talent audition (and breaking her grandmother’s rules about walking the highway), and Patricia, Zoe’s mother (who the reader knows from previous stories). When the vehicle Zoe and Patricia are in ends up hitting the ditch, choices are made that show the moral values of those still conscious.
This story sets its aim on feminism that discounts racial privilege. It explores how sexism, misogyny, and/or violence against women has affected and continues to affect each female character, but also shows the way in which privilege allows the character with the most power to abandon she who has less.
This story makes reference to:
- The REDressProject, which you can learn more about here. To quote the description from the artist Jaime Black’s site, The REDress Project focuses around the issue of missing or murdered Aboriginal women across Canada. It is an installation art project based on an aesthetic response to this critical national issue. The project has been installed in public spaces throughout Canada and the United States as a visual reminder of the staggering number of women who are no longer with us. Through the installation I hope to draw attention to the gendered and racialized nature of violent crimes against Aboriginal women and to evoke a presence through the marking of absence.
- The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Read the TRC’s Intrum Report here.
O Siem, by Susan Aglukark
“Mom tries the dial again and finally finds music. She turns the volume high. A woman sings a few words in a different language and then her voice right out that we’re all the same. Mom says the song was a big hit the year Zoe was born. It always makes her cry, she says.”
Zoe suffers from a condition called Cold Urticaria. This translates to Cold Hives, and is an allergic reaction to cold temperatures. My eldest daughter has this same allergy. Before you start – I know. Everyone’s made the same joke. Why’d you live in Canada?
Zoe references reading about a girl who bit off her own tongue when in a car accident. I was a child when I overheard an adult talking about the same thing. It horrified me so fully that to this day, if I’m nervous while driving (say, in a snow storm), my first instinct is to make sure my tongue is nowhere near my teeth.
Lloyd Robertson makes an appearance, just to say from the TV, and that’s the kind of day it’s been. Anyone else remember that baritone voice filling their home from 6-7pm?
Set in urban and rural reaches of Alberta, Katie Bickell’s debut novel is told in a series of stories that span the years from 1990 to 2016, through cycles of boom and bust in the oil fields, government budget cuts and workers rights policies, the rising opioid crisis, and the intersecting lives of people whose communities sometimes stretch farther than they know.
We meet a teenage runaway who goes into labour at West Edmonton Mall, a doctor managing hospital overflow in a time of healthcare cutbacks, a broke dad making extra pay through a phone sex line, a young musician who dreams of fame beyond the reserve, and a dedicated hockey mom grappling with sense of self when she’s no longer needed―or welcome―at the rink.
Always Brave, Sometimes Kind captures a network of friends, caregivers, in-laws, and near misses, with each character’s life coming into greater focus as we learn more about the people around them. Tracing alliances and betrayals from different perspectives over decades, Bickell writes an ode to home and community that is both warm and gritty, well-defined and utterly complicated.