Ellie has to watch as her mother's sanity gradually slips away. The story takes place in the 60's in the south and includes racial elements respective of that time. There are many wonderful people that take Ellie under their wing and I especially enjoyed reading about Clara-The magic lady and Jericho, Mr Morgan and her teachers that watched out for Ellie and loved her. Ellie creates a secret world to save herself behind the chalk door. Here's a passage that I loved that shows the power of our hearts and minds:
"The Chalk door is good magic to shut out cruel deeds and words from others. That was a gift from Mr. Morgan, something he wanted you to use to protect yourself from rumors and name calling. But you use the chalk door to hide. To learn real magic, you have to face things that scare you. You have to face the hurt inside here," she says pointing to my heart, "if you are ever to be rid of it."
I believe that everyone has a chalk door that they can choose to hide behind and this was such a powerful analogy. This is just one example of the beautiful writing of Jayne Pupek's novel Tomato Girl.
I enjoyed reading each chapter and looked forward to the chapter titles to give me an idea of what was ahead. One of my favorite chaper titles was "Chalk Doors, Chocolates and a Kiss". When I finished the book, I did return to the prologue and re-read it and gained a further understanding of the book.
This is a powerful book in so many ways. The subject matter can be difficult to read but it is written in such a way that pulls you in and you are drawn to Ellie and the other characters in the book. There is a sense of hopefulness that draws you along through Ellies voice to the end. It is hard to imagine that a child would have to endure some of these experiences that Ellie goes through but there is a reality and truth to this story that children do experience these things and can endure. There is a positive note to the sadness told in this story with a bittersweet ending. I highly recommend this debut novel by Jayne Pupek for the depth of emotion and truth it shares, that we can endure a childhood that presents so many challenges. This is one of my favorite books that I have read this year and I look forward to more books written by Jayne Pupek.
Thank you to Jayne Pupek and Algonquin Books for this book.