Desperate Freedom is a coming of age novel set in Grey Bay, Newfoundland, written in the voice of a 17 year old girl, Rachel. Edgy, and full of the angst of young
people in trouble inside a welfare system that doesn’t see them, the young people come alive under the pen of Melinda Cochrane. Her writing is spare and captivating
telling a very powerful modern story that highlights issues of social justice. Desperate Freedom is Poet Cochrane’s first novel, she has also written 2 books
of poetry, She’s an Island Poet and The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat.
Rachel is a young adult in high school who lives with her single mother in Grey Bay, Newfoundland. Her mother is not right in the head, she works at the fishery but when it gets too much for her goes on welfare, she can be tyrannical and abuses the teenage girl. Rachel hangs with her 3 friends from childhood, Johnny, Patty and Rick who are all also from single parent homes who rely on welfare between bouts of working for the fishery industry. The children are all profoundly emotionally hurt in some way and other than Rachel, they fill in the gaps smoking pot and drinking. The angst of teenagers discovering their sexuality, having not found their place in society yet, their calling for work and desperately wanting something different than the abuse of life they have thus far experienced weighs heavy. There is prejudice because of being on welfare as Rachel’s boyfriend Jason calls her and her friends “bunch of welfare trash!” Rachel saves Johnny from getting more bashed on by his father but cracks are beginning to show between the group of teenagers as Rachel takes them to task for their drug use and feels badly about her role in Johnny’s ripping off the local corner store, she does not want anything to get in the way of her getting to university to study to be a teacher. The children are in trouble, Johnny sells drugs and steals from the locals, a charismatic outlander, he is sleeping with Patty, he is being raised by his single father a strict Pentecostal. The children are in emotional pain and medicating with drugs and alcohol. “I think life here is nothing, but games, head games, physical games, sick games, right Rach . . . “ “So let’s go, let’s do it. Let’s tell the goddam world we want out. This crap ain’t for us. A strangeness surrounds all of us.” Johnny looked around the room, pointing at the window as he said it. Patty and Rick suggest they leave and go to Alberta or Montreal and then Johnny says “Let’s die.” And the tension builds into a suicide pact.
Despite their hardship and painful existence there is great magic in the Community, the ocean landscape, the sense of place and particularly in Rachel, the young girl who tells the story in the first person. “Everyone older than our parents were aunt and uncle in Grey Bay . . . It was a small outport and everyone knew each other around here.” And “I closed the front door of the house behind me, but I didn’t lock it we never locked our doors in Grey Bay. I wondered when I’d see the other end of the ocean.” “Out of nowhere a sparrow started to flutter around me. It followed me up the path, when I stood still it circled around me, over and over again. I tried to catch it, but it flew away.” The whales, “were so big and the moon behind them made me think of the great schooners out at night with all the fishermen on the deck taking it in. I could almost hear them in my imagination shouting at teach other to watch out for the whales. The whales were always waiting.”
The dialogue is riveting, in the Celtic Maritime brogue of Newfoundland, and the story is told in the first person of the character Rachel. The story is well written and the writing easily rolls out and takes you in, like the ocean weaving enchantment and may take you back to your own experiences of high school. This novel rates with all of the great coming of age novels, and is most similar to The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, it is the rural Newfoundland version of angst and becoming. It is a story of great hardship, survival and dreams and how although there can be conflict between people, it is possible to tell the truth and reach higher ground. A fantastic novel illustrating choices and the need for caring creative interventions for youth, a brilliant read.
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Genre: Young Adult, Women's Literature, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction