Prairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi

 

A Prairie Ostrich and a prairie winter

A Prairie Ostrich and a prairie winter

I wish I didn’t do this, but, whenever I read a story about children, I start wondering, “is this YA?” At the beginning of the story, I was thinking “no, this is a coming of age story for adults,” but at the end I wasn’t sure. Does it really matter?

At age eight, Egg is a little young to be “coming of age.” If the perspective had shifted to her older sister, it would have been fairly standard – teenage girl, first love, torn between leaving small town life and family obligations. But Egg is too young to consider leaving. She’s stuck. She spends a lot of time hiding from bullies, teachers, and her parents, but there’s no where to hide, really. This is the prairie, after all.

So Egg becomes a detective. She knows she’s not being told the truth about her brother’s death. In the course of doing the odd things that kids do – stealing small trinkets, hiding things away – she finds out, and forces the rest of her family to stop hiding from it as well.

I’m glad Egg is the hero. I loved Egg’s inner monologue – it felt right for a girl her age. She sees through a lot of the adult’s self-deception, but she isn’t one of those “adult in a kid’s body” characters, thank goodness. She’s curious and naive as well as smart and perceptive.

I loved the descriptions of farm life, of Alberta winter, of the clothes and music. Kobayashi isn’t afraid to set this story firmly in 1970s rural Alberta.

Back to this “YA or not” thing: the ending was a little too easy, too happy, and too tied up. Is this a YA thing, I wonder? Is this the author giving the kids their happy ending? It felt a little too fairytale for me, for a story that had, to this point, been very realistic and dark.

Though now, looking back through the book, I see fairy tales and myths are woven throughout the story:

Kathy says fairy tales are stories told to children so they can learn about the world. The Moral of the Story is Don’t Be So Stupid like in Little Red Riding Hood or Don’t Be Greedy like in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Egg’s favourite story is Rumplestiltskin. You would think the hero would be the queen but she didn’t do anything, just cried until Rumple can around and saved her butt. He was the one who could spin straw into gold. The king was the evil one, telling her if she didn’t spin the straw into gold he would kill her, and he got all the gold in the end. Kathy says that is called Capitalism.

There might be more to this ending than I thought. YA or not, I do recommend this book for kids and adults alike.

Thank you to Goose Lane Editions for the review copy!

Books read: 1

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5 responses to “Prairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi

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