I can faintly recall, as a child, watching the national news, noticing a lot of talk about fishing out east. The lack of fish, the death of an industry and a lifestyle. It was my own country but very far away and very removed from my own city childhood on the opposite coast.
In 1992, Finn Connor is ten years old, just a little older than I was in 1992. The diminishing cod stock and the dying fishing industry is central to his life however. Finn lives in the town of Big Running, Newfoundland. A place entirely centred around cod fishing. And as the cod begins to disappear, so do the people. Suddenly Finn and his parents and his older sister Cora live in a ghost town with only a few people holding on. Even Finn’s parents are slowly disappearing, alternating months away to work in the oil fields. Then Cora disappears too.
Finn knows that if the cod return so will the people. So he begins a series of outlandish but hopeful actions in order to bring the people back. Hooper has chosen wisely in having a child as her main character. Finn is smart but not unreasonably so. His choices and actions are those of a child – an isolated and lonely one, exposed to more stress than someone his age should be. But what would be insane or aggravating in an adult character comes across as charming and whimsical from Finn and I couldn’t help but root for him even as I could see the fruitlessness of his quest.
After Cora disappears from Big Running the book devotes some chapters to her and her subsequent travels. I didn’t enjoy these sections as much. Not because I didn’t sympathize with Cora or care what happened to her, it simply seemed unrealistic. Cora is fourteen but none of her behaviour (or the people around her) fits with a fourteen-year-old. Her story never seemed to figure out what it was supposed to be. There is a tension to her sections that never quite works and then simply seems to slacken without a true release.
Within the present tense of the novel, there is another story being told. This is the story of Aidan and Martha, Finn and Cora’s parents. Lifelong residents of Newfoundland, familiar with fish and the sea and death and hardship, we meet them as teenagers and follow them as they are shaped by place and circumstance. They meet and fall in love and their story is sweet and feels magical. By showing us the past of the place, Hooper helps the reader fall in love with it the way the characters do and it adds a lovely, mystical quality.
The more I read about Newfoundland the more it seems like a completely unique place in the world. Hooper has added well to the rich library of Newfoundland literature and while the story stumbles in places, it is overall a definitely worthwhile read.