Adapted from: GoodReads
I’m a big fan of supporting Canadian authors and I really enjoy everything I’ve read by E.K. Johnston, so when I heard about this one, it was a no brainer. But That Inevitable Victorian Thing (which I will be referring to as TIVT from here on out because woah that’s a title) is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. When I went to the Chapters (our Barnes and Nobles equivalent) Fall preview a couple months back, they were talking about how difficult it had been to place. It isn’t sci-fi, though there are some steam-punk-esque technology elements. It is a touch speculative fiction, but YA, so doesn’t really go with the others. In the end, I think this book transcends classification. It really is its own beast and a really, really fun read.
WELCOME TO CANADA
That needed to be in all caps because this book is so Canadian. Truly. Half the novel takes place in Toronto, the other half in Muskoka, i.e. cottage country. I think Johnston does a really good job of showing these two sides of Canada: the more urban and happening and the quieter but beautiful rural parts. As a Canadian, this made my heart swell. I recognized places she mentioned. These characters came so alive for me because I could truly picture them walking around these famous Toronto locations. Union station, the Royal Ontario Museum. Even the Blue Jays at the Sky Dome get an (albeit sad) shout out.
Probably my favourite bit though is letter about Friday traffic. Throughout the book, the chapters are punctuated by little side tidbits. It could be a text from an old monarch, a letter, a news article, etc. But my favourite is a letter from the office of the provincial government about construction and traffic on one of our major highways, Highway 400, which is the highway that goes from Toronto all the way up to cottage country. As someone whose lives in Toronto with parents about 100km north on the 400, I 100% identify with the angst that comes from Friday afternoon traffic going north in the summer.
Basically, if you’re from the GTA, this book is a must read if only for all the lovely nods to our home.
Now going into the story, I didn’t really know what it was about. I knew it took place in Canada and has that speculative, alternative timeline going on, but that was about it. I was delighted when I realized about half way into the book that this was a story about a girl who finds out that she’s Intersex. This is a surprise to the character in question, but I don’t think it should be a surprise to the reader. It seems like someone’s sex shouldn’t be a plot twist. It was surprising because I didn’t know much about the book going in (for example, I had no idea there would be so much LGBTQ* rep, which is awesome and I should have expected knowing Johnston’s work), but I don’t think it should be a shock factor thing. All the stuff that comes after, sure.
At any rate, this story shows Johnston at her best: Friendship, romance, families, Canadian nods. She writes these things beautifully and entertainingly.
The ending was also super interesting and though I have some issues and questions SPOILER: namely that it seems like a pretty terrible deal for August. This may be a little silly of me to even think about, but based on the fact that he seems sexually attracted to Helena meaning that he would be interested in having physical relationships in his life. So, would all three have a sexual relationship together, in which case cool, fine, or is he just the cover story for Margaret and Helena? Because if that’s the case… that’s cold. And not fair.
There have been a lot of people who have brought up that this book could be considered erasure of the very real and upsetting realities that have come from colonialism. I would encourage anyone thinking this to read the author’s note at the end of the book. I don’t think that this was E.K.’s vision and rather it seems that she is trying to look at a “what if” scenario. If we had celebrated diversity instead of trying to squash it, what might our world look like? I would argue that the book supports and preaches tolerance of different people, values and beliefs.
Now that being said, I am not from a country that was colonized, rather my background lies with the colonizers, so I am sure that I read this book much differently from those who are living, still today, the effects of colonial rule. It is definitely something to consider before you pick up this book.
Overall however, I really enjoyed this book and would definitely encourage friends to give it a read. #ReadTheNorth and all that 😉