On two occasions when I’ve been talking about my search for contemporary depictions of black teens IN Canada, Pamela Mordecai‘s book, Pink Icing, has come up. And twice I resisted adding the title to my study–after all, it’s not a novel and from the description I read online, it’s not a MG or YA book. “No, no,” I was told at the ChLA conference, “It’s written for kids and talks about Canada.” So I ordered it and read it yesterday; I’m not a fan of short stories and really had to push myself to finish—not because the writing wasn’t strong or compelling, it was—but I had to know why Pink Icing kept coming up. It’s a collection of twelve short stories and NOT ONE is set in contemporary Canada; one white priest hails from Ontario and one drug-dealing Jamaican man apparently flies back and forth to Toronto, but all of the stories take place in the Caribbean. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Telling stories of ordinary lives with extraordinary skill, Pamela Mordecai draws delicately detailed portraits of life in Jamaica and other islands, with occasional trips to Canada. Her characters speak with the cadences of the Caribbean, and cope with the universal experiences of birth and death, joy and betrayal.
In “Hartstone High,” a group of girls learn the high price of education; in “Alvin’s Ilk,” a self-centred teenaged boy comes to see his elderly neighbour in a whole new way; and in “Shining Waters,” a young priest’s plans for his new parish go horribly awry.
Mordecai turns a sharp ear to the nuances of everyday speech, exposing the currents beneath the calm exterior and producing complex tales that will challenge and entertain her readers.
More than half of the stories have child protagonists, but this is not, I would argue, a YA book. It could easily be taught to high school students, and I’d love to see it added to the school curriculum in Canada, but I don’t see anything indicating that the book was intended for the kidlit market (nothing on the publisher’s website, nothing on its Amazon page, where age range and reading level are usually provided). In 2008, the author described her audience this way:
…it’s with much delight that I discovered today that it’s on amazon.ca’s list of the top 100 titles in the category “African-American Studies”! (It may well not stay there, but it is there as of now!) I’m hoping that means it’s got onto courses in high school, college, and university. That’s not just because it will mean improved book sales, though I won’t deny this is important since I earn my living exclusively from writing. It’s because I think it’s a book anyone can enjoy, in particular anyone from the Caribbean.
Pamela Mordecai is married to Martin Mordecai, author of Blue Mountain Trouble—a novel clearly intended for children that is also set in Jamaica. I’d love to know how either of these books resonates with black children born in Canada to immigrant parents from the Caribbean. And just to be clear—I have no problem with books for (or about) children that are set outside of Canada; I’m just explaining why this particular book isn’t included in my study of MG/YA novels published in Canada.