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CanLit for LittleCanadians says “young adult readers will appreciate Road Signs That Say West…which takes [three sisters] to new places in their relationships within a colourful national landscape.”

Posted on August 4th, 2017 by pajamapress

roadsignsthatsaywest_website“The road trip scenario is an irresistible plot line, forcing the three sisters to interact (haven’t we all been trapped in cars with those we may or may not like?) while they experience life and meet new people of all backgrounds and take in the diversity of places that make up Canada. Road Signs That Say West could be a travel commentary of places east to west (I found myself looking up information about Glooscap, Weyburn, and more) but it’s really a story of family, a real family, of siblings with secrets, weaknesses, strengths and ambitions that they may or may not share. The baggage that the girls take with them is far greater than their back stories and drives them to behave in complex and justifiable ways….young adult readers will appreciate the three different personalities Sylvia Gunnery has created as well as her story which takes the three to new places in their relationships within a colourful national landscape.”

Click here to read the full review

Book Faerie says she “sure would want to meet the monster in [The Hill]”

Posted on June 26th, 2017 by pajamapress

TheHill_Website“This tale is set in Canada. When you get out in the middle of nowhere in Canada, it really is. Jared has no sense of direction, has never even been camping and hates being in the position he is now. Kyle is angry that Jared won’t listen and knows that he’s being looked down on because he’s an Indian. They have plenty of time to discuss those issues and find each other’s hot buttons on the trail. The problem is that they are not alone….

There’s myth, legend, shapeshifting and coming of age all wrapped together in this story. I have some Yakima Indian relatives, so the storyline drew me in. I have camped in the woods and had closer contact than I wanted with a bear. I sure wouldn’t want to meet the monster in this story…”

Click here to read the full review

Writing YA says Road Signs That Say West is “Perfect for people transitioning through stages of life, and wondering what more is out there”

Posted on June 22nd, 2017 by pajamapress

roadsignsthatsaywest_website“This is a quiet book, a literary book, and a difficult story to cram between two plain paper covers. A sisterly Bildungsroman is both vast and deep; it covers the happenings over a summer, but also the tendencies of a lifetime thus far, in a way. The narrative is more a series of observations from inside the mind of each girl, and isn’t always seamless. The ‘head-hopping’ can be frustrating for a reader seeking a typical narrative with a rising narrative arc, and this book might be more appropriate to an older reader. I think it crosses over well into being an adult read.

Things happen in this novel, and yet, not much does. It’s a road trip; there are long silences, periods of silent anger, spontaneous, giddy parties with strangers, and a lot of examining internal thoughts….

The novel ends with trailing threads, and for some, the end will seem jarring. But, a road is a constant, just as the narrative of sisterhood and the process of growing, maturing, and separating is a common experience, in many ways. This constantly shifting narrative means that some things aren’t resolved in this novel – bitterness remains bitter ‘til the end, losses still pain, good times are ephemeral. The road goes on, but the one thing that remains is sisterhood. Despite everything, these girls will always be related.

Conclusion: Definitely not for the common crowd, this novel is made up of the pauses between growing pains, and will find its audience among those who have wished to draw closer to their families and see them as complex and enigmatic human beings, instead of the familiar souls they’ve always known. Perfect for people transitioning through stages of life, and wondering what more is out there.”

Click here to read the full review

Resource Links calls Road Signs That Say West “an important journey of discovery”

Posted on June 13th, 2017 by pajamapress

roadsignsthatsaywest_website“What starts out as a daring cross-Canada romp evolves into an important journey of discovery, personal and philosophical, with important and realistic results….

Author Sylvia Gunnery has portrayed this trip as a portrait of Canada’s better self; the onethat sees youth as something to be treasured and travel as something with purpose rather than a simple means to a destination. The people the three sisters meet on their journey are believable and real and that added dimension gives the narrative much more depth than initially expected.”

Thematic Links: Travel; Canada; Sisterhood; Conduct of Life; Adolescence; Sexual Politics
Lesley Little

Read the full review on page 24 of the June 2017 issue of Resource Links

Road Signs That Say West “is funny and full of heart” says Atlantic Books Today

Posted on May 23rd, 2017 by pajamapress

roadsignsthatsaywest_website“Despite the weight of the themes Road Signs is funny and full of heart, with skillful depiction of the hooks and barbs of sibling rivalry.”

Read the full review on page 64 of the Spring 2017 issue of Atlantic Books Today

The Hill “…Suspenseful, fast-paced, and hard to put down”—Kirkus Reviews

Posted on November 2nd, 2016 by pajamapress

TheHill_Website“The crash landing of his father’s private jet in the Canadian wilderness leaves rich white kid Jared stunned and the pilot badly injured, but it soon becomes clear that those are the very least of the 15-year-old’s problems. Kyle, a Cree boy of the same age, comes to Jared’s aid but isn’t able to stop him from climbing up a tall hill that’s forbidden for the Cree to visit in hopes of getting a cell signal. Going up there literally opens a world of trouble. That world they unwittingly step into is inhabited by Wîhtiko, a legendary Cree creature that is large, strong, terrifying-looking, and determined to eat the two boys. Thus begins a four-day chase through the deep woods, with little food and growing peril. Wesakechak, a shape-shifting Cree trickster, provides occasional help, but mostly the boys are dependent upon Kyle’s well-honed woodland skills, as Jared finds that his modern tools have little to offer away from the grid. The cultural tension between the two boys is prolonged, but eventually, after Jared uses one of his few skills to save them, they make a lasting peace. The pace is relentless, the amply creepy threat is believable, and the setting is fully realized. There is enough Native American culture to add welcome flavor and depth; Bass, not Cree herself, explains her cultural and linguistic research in an author’s note. Suspenseful, fast-paced, and hard to put down. (Adventure. 11-18)”

 

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Karen Bass’ The Hill “suspensful, fast-paced and hard to put down,”—Kirkus Reviews

Posted on August 11th, 2016 by pajamapress

TheHill_WebsiteThe crash landing of his father’s private jet in the Canadian wilderness leaves rich white kid Jared stunned and the pilot badly injured, but it soon becomes clear that those are the very least of the 15-year-old’s problems. Kyle, a Cree boy of the same age, comes to Jared’s aid but isn’t able to stop him from climbing up a tall hill that’s forbidden for the Cree to visit in hopes of getting a cell signal. Going up there literally opens a world of trouble. That world they unwittingly step into is inhabited by Wîhtiko, a legendary Cree creature that is large, strong, terrifying-looking, and determined to eat the two boys. Thus begins a four-day chase through the deep woods, with little food and growing peril. Wesakechak, a shape-shifting Cree trickster, provides occasional help, but mostly the boys are dependent upon Kyle’s well-honed woodland skills, as Jared finds that his modern tools have little to offer away from the grid. The cultural tension between the two boys is prolonged, but eventually, after Jared uses one of his few skills to save them, they make a lasting peace. The pace is relentless, the amply creepy threat is believable, and the setting is fully realized. There is enough Native American culture to add welcome flavor and depth; Bass, not Cree herself, explains her cultural and linguistic research in an author’s note. Suspenseful, fast-paced, and hard to put down. (Adventure. 11-18)

Click here to read more from Kirkus Reviews.

The Hill’s inclusion of Cree mythology “a brilliant addition…truly frightening”—Resource Links

Posted on June 15th, 2016 by pajamapress

TheHill_Website“Jared is flying in a private jet to visit his father’s diamond mine in the NorthWest Territories when the plane crashes. In his expensive sneakers and “raw” jeans, Jared is totally unprepared for surviving in desolate Northern Alberta. Fortunately Kyle Badger, a Cree teen, is camping nearby and comes to the rescue. After providing first aid for the injured pilot, Kyle tries to get Jared to return to his grandparents’ camp. But Jared insists on climbing a nearby hill, seeking cell phone service. Kyle tells him that the hill is culturally taboo, but Jared refuses to listen. When they reach the top, there is of course no cell service. Instead the boys enter an alternate reality, a spirit world in which their action releases the Wîhtiko (aka Wendigo). The next two hundred pages are an adrenaline-filled fight for survival, where Jared and Kyle only manage to succeed due to Kyle’s wilderness training and the intervention of Wesakechak, the trickster.

This novel has many of the threats of wilderness survival fiction, including quicksand pits, forest fires, and dangerous animals. The inclusion of the indigenous mythological characters is a brilliant addition, and creates truly frightening scenarios. But the best part of this book is the interplay between the two main characters. Jared is the spoiled city kid, and Kyle the tough outdoorsy one, but they are both so much more than the stereotypes would suggest. For example, Kyle advises Jared, “Sometimes scared is the smartest thing you can be.” (p. 29) Only through the combination of their knowledge and skill, and respect for each other’s contribution, are they able to return the Wîhtiko to its lair in The Hill.”

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The Hill “…is impossible to stop reading” according to The Globe and Mail

Posted on May 25th, 2016 by pajamapress

TheHill_WebsiteKaren Bass’ latest survival-thriller, The Hill, has been reviewed by The Globe and Mail:

“The hills are ripe for horror: Wes Craven’s hills had eyes, and Karen Bass’s is home to a supernatural serial hunter drawn from the Cree legend of the Wîhtiko. When Jared’s plane crashes in the Alberta wilderness, he is saved by a Cree teenager named Kyle. It’s a triple-edged survival story with Jared and Kyle facing down their cultural differences, the elements and the scary Wihtiko…this Hatchet meets Lost tale is presented in a way that’s suitable for the younger end of the YA spectrum. And, really, it’s impossible to stop reading to see if anyone gets eaten.”

Click here to read the full review.

Diversity Day Interview with Karen Bass

Posted on May 21st, 2016 by pajamapress

The Hill is a supernatural survival-thriller by award-winning author Karen Bass that draws inspiration from the true story of a remote plane crash and the Cree Wîhtiko legend. For the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, I sat down with Karen to discuss The Hill’s protagonists: Jared, an affluent white teen from Edmonton, and Kyle, the Cree teenager who rescues him, and how the relationship between the two boys reflects the racial and cultural tensions existing between these two groups in Canada today.

 

TheHill_WebsiteS. The Hill was the first of the Young Adult titles I read when I started my internship at Pajama Press, and I really enjoyed it. My favourite part was the banter between two boys. Was that fun to write or was that challenging in ways you didn’t expect?

K. It was mostly fun. I grew up in a family that used sarcasm an awful lot, and we were always poking at each other. So I was able to draw on that. And it was two teenagers so they do poke, poke, poke.

S. They do read like two teenagers.

K. Well that’s good.

S. What about the racial component to that dialogue? Where did that come from? Were you influenced by people you were speaking to at the time, because I know you did a lot of research for the book, or does it from your own lived experience?

K. I grew up in rural Alberta, so like a lot of rural Canada I think you see a lot of racism that maybe isn’t apparent in the cities, at least between First Nations and white communities. So I was certainly able to draw on what I’d seen myself, and the attitudes that I see in other people. In terms of Kyle and how he feels about it, that was partly talking to First Nations friends and partly whole empathy thing that writers have to draw on. Being able to put myself into his shoes and, you know, ask “how would I feel?”

S. I really enjoyed Kyle because he was the most “in tune” fifteen-year-old boy I’ve ever seen. He initiates a lot of the conversation between himself and Jared. Some of the ideas he brings to it are concepts that I first encountered in university. Why was it coming from him?

K. It was coming from him partly because Jared was oblivious. A lot of people do live their lives that way, where they don’t even look at how they’re affecting other people in their word choices or their actions. They don’t think about anybody that isn’t within their circle. It wouldn’t have sounded right coming from Jared. He was very…what did they call it? Affluenza? I hate that term, but that was his thing.

S. I actually have a note on how oblivious Jared is, but although he’s oblivious, he doesn’t seem to be malicious about. Was that an important part of how you chose to represent his ignorance?

K. I think if he had been malicious, he and Kyle would never have been able to connect and work together. Sometimes you have to look at where you need the characters to go and make sure their personalities are such that they can shift a little bit. Otherwise you would just have them sniping at each other. It is only four days in their time, so you’re not going to necessarily make huge leaps in that time, it’s more like small shifts. Someone who was just outright mean, it wouldn’t have worked.

S. I liked that there was room for Jared to become a bit more sensitive toward issues of race and class. Whereas someone who was more malicious might have dug their feet in and been more resistant.

K. Well, I think someone like that would have had much more of an “I don’t really care” attitude. Whereas Jared, maybe partly because his life is on the line, realizes that he’s at a point of disadvantage and that does make him more open to listen to what Kyle is saying. Once it finally sinks in that this isn’t his environment and he’s in a whole lot of trouble.

S. On that note, you’re from rural Alberta, so you’re very familiar with the landscape that appears in The Hill.

K. Oh, yes.

S. But you’re not a First Nations person or Cree yourself. Where do you think that situates you in regards to the larger discussion that was going on in the novel?

K. I guess I would be called an ally, if anything. I’m hopefully the person who is nudging other whites to reconsider their position. I do run across a lot of casual racism. It’s not necessarily malicious, but it is very much engrained. “This is what my parents and grandparents told me, so this is what I believe,” whether it’s about First Nations people being lazy, or whatever, which is just nonsense. Stereotypes are quite often nonsense, but the perpetuation is what causes the problem.

S. In terms of words and how we use them, Kyle frequently directs the Cree word “Moniyaw” (white man) at Jared. It’s also racial term, but somehow it seems less objectionable than it would if it came from the other direction. Does that speak to the power dynamics between two groups or how racism works in our culture?

K. I think I had him doing that as a way he could poke at Jared. For sure it was the idea that terms don’t always have to be loaded. To say ‘white man,’ it’s just a fact. It’s just who Jared is, as opposed to some of the other words we use for people of other groups or that we hear in society. Those are much more loaded. I don’t think it was ever malicious on Kyle’s part. Some of these things, it’s just your character when they come alive, they decide. I hope it’s not taken maliciously, although Jared doesn’t really appreciate it when he finds out what it means.

S. No, and I think I might have taken that cue from him.

K. I think what you’ve said about power issues is very valid. There is definitely a power imbalance and you need to be aware of that and be sensitive to it. Which teenagers are never going to be.

S. Would you ever revisit these characters at all, or do you think The Hill is their story and they’re done?

K. I don’t tend to revisit characters. There’s one or two books where I could maybe write a sequel, but I haven’t looked at it enough to actually do it. They’re probably done. Sometimes it’s fun to leave it in the readers’ hands and say, “what do you think happens with them?”

S. I think you wrapped it up well. I just really liked the boys and felt like I should ask. That’s all the questions I came up with. Is there anything else you’d like to say about the boys or diversity in YA fiction?

K. I think we’re seeing a lot more diversity in Young Adult fiction, which is awesome. In terms of First Nations you’re starting to see more First Nations writers who are really good writers, and I love that. People should have the wherewithal and the skills to tell their own stories.

S. So much storytelling is involved in First Nations cultures, and it’s so important.

K. A lot of it is really just learning to take that oral tradition and put it on paper. You’re seeing more film-making and stuff too, and I love it. I think it’ll only get better.

S. That’s great. Thanks for sitting down with me and answering my questions! I enjoyed it.

 

Click here to learn more about The Hill.

Learn more about World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development (Diversity Day).