Molly MacGregor is in her early twenties, a student of literature at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. The year is 1995 and Molly has taken a full-time summer job at Le Petit Chou Shoe Shop in “the mall”. We follow Molly through her summer job – the ups and downs of being a purveyor of fine shoes – and the following year of student life. Molly is the a lover of Jane Austen, the daughter of two university professors, and a creative student. She and her older siblings (Tess and Heathcliff) were given their names based on their father’s syllabus and as Molly struggles to read Moll Flanders for the first time she wonders what it means to be named in honour of such a character.
The story is told from Molly’s perspective, almost in journal entries, as she examines the world around her and her interactions with friends, family, co-workers, and a mysterious fellow book lover she knows only as The Penguin Man. We are given insights into some of Molly’s school assignments as well, which are done in very creative ways. Molly is also a music lover and there are plenty of 1995-appropriate music references.
In fact, when I initially read the synopsis for Molly of the Mall, I didn’t think I was the right age to be nostalgic for this era. I was in elementary school in 1995 yet I never felt lost by Molly’s references. While I might associate Alan Rickman more with Harry Potter than an object of romance, Wonderwall was just as seminal a song in my teen years as it is for Molly.
What I enjoyed most about this novel though was just how unapologetically Canadian it is. From toques to Big Rock beer to the dark afternoons of the winter, Molly’s life felt like a wonderfully familiar glimpse into a Canadian life. I don’t know Edmonton well and I’ve only visited West Edmonton Mall once (in 1998, so close to Molly’s time there) but Jacobs’ descriptions felt accurate to what I know. Molly’s journals are particularly evocative of the unique stage of life that being a university student is. Filled with so many unknowns and possibilities, challenging but thrilling.
This was a really fun, very funny, delightfully Canadian book.