Montreal teen’s tale a moving treat

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From Montreal-born, Cape Breton-based author Lesley Crewe comes a delightfully authentic novel that provides the perfect feel-good distraction. Nosy Parker is the latest offering from the prolific Crewe, who turns to the setting where she grew up — the Notre-Dame-de-Grace section of Montreal — for the story of Audrey Parker.

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From Montreal-born, Cape Breton-based author Lesley Crewe comes a delightfully authentic novel that provides the perfect feel-good distraction. Nosy Parker is the latest offering from the prolific Crewe, who turns to the setting where she grew up — the Notre-Dame-de-Grace section of Montreal — for the story of Audrey Parker.

The novel begins in June 1967, the year of Expo in Montreal. Audrey has just turned 12 and she and her dad have just moved from an apartment into a duplex. She has no memory of her mother, who died years before, and her father has told Audrey little about her.

Audrey, the first-person narrator, quotes lots of dialogue as she briskly moves from scene to scene. She brings to three-dimensional life a large cast of characters that includes many of their new neighbours and lots of Audrey’s school friends.

Nosy Parker

Nosy Parker

Her dad kids her about being nosy, even calls her that on page 2; and though she often sees herself as a potential spy, she quickly shows herself as bright and likable. The reader enjoys her company immediately — and so do the neighbours, the Weiners and the Papadopouloses. It’s Mrs. Weiner who buys Audrey her first bra. And one of the best early scenes shows Audrey having lunch with the Papadopoulos family.

Soon after the novel begins, Audrey tells off her father, who she feels has been neglecting her. “‘I wanted you to notice that I needed a new pair of shoes! Do you ever look at me? The only time you see me is when I’m handing you your coffee in the morning, and even then, you’re in a rush. You say I’m not an orphan. Well, I sure felt like one today when Gloria’s mother said if I ever need anything, I could come to her.’”

After that, she goes to bed, into her favourite kind of seclusion: “I throw the covers over my head and escape into my world under the blankets where no one can reach me.”

Jack, her father, runs a publishing company; in the evenings, he works at his own writing. But he does try to give Audrey more attention, even as he avoids saying much about Rosemary, his late wife.

Audrey has many friends, but that is not always so wonderful: “(Jane and Gloria) are completely different people, and Gloria’s habit of taking that damn ball everywhere she goes really gets on Jane’s nerves. I’m not crazy about it either, but it’s a stress reliever for Gloria, and that’s something Jane could use big time. It’s upsetting when two friends you like don’t like each other. Now I wonder who I can live without.”

As she progresses into adolescence, gregarious Audrey has experiences both typical and unexpected. She loves cats. She contracts mononucleosis and misses many weeks of Grade 8.

Once she’s well, she’s appalled at the sudden and sneaky attention from older men.

Jane tries to get her interested in Girl Guides, but Audrey can’t; her dad eventually decrees that “‘Girl Guides smothered your creativity’” as he encourages her to join a drama society. By then, she’s already been chosen to play the lead in her school’s production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Audrey as Charlie? Why not? She seems capable of doing anything (though she’s having trouble learning French), and her performance draws a rave review from the local newspaper. Her dad and her Aunt Maureen like the show so much, they see it all three nights.

The novel eventually moves to revelations about her mother, Jack finally dealing with the truth he had so tenaciously avoided.

Nosy Parker is as entertaining as one could want. The only thing that seems out of place is the cartoony cover, which does nothing to suggest how real and sincere and eloquent Audrey is, or how moving her story proves to be.

Lesley Crewe has created a novel that can be enjoyed by everyone.

Dave Williamson is the Winnipeg author of six novels, a collection of short stories and a memoir.

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