Thursday, November 13, 2014

"The Firelight Girls"

Kaya McLaren is the author of Church of the Dog, On the Divinity of Second Chances, How I Came to Sparkle Again, and most recently, The Firelight Girls.

McLaren applied the Page 69 Test to The Firelight Girls and reported the following:
From page 69:
Ruby’s favorite thing about camp when she was twelve was not doing dishes. As the campers finished eating, they sang songs while they scraped their plates into a coffee can and then stacked them. And that’s when Ruby’s favorite part of the day came—when one person took the pile of plates to the little window of the dishwashers’ station, and that was it. Poof. Gone.

Just two days ago, Ruby stood at the sink, elbows deep in suds scrubbing a particularly difficult cheese-coated casserole dish. “Why do I have to wash all the dishes all the time and Fred never does?” She glanced over at her brother who was leafing through the Sears Catalog, looking at beebee guns.

“Because your brother mows the lawn and chops wood,” her mother answered.

“He doesn’t do either of those things three times a day—or even year-round,” muttered Ruby.

“You can stop that attitude right now,” said her mother firmly.

The discussion was over. Ruby’s place as a girl was reaffirmed—she was destined to be a servant, or at the very least, a second-class citizen. At school, Fred and the other boys got to have P.E. in the shiny new gym with the nice floor, while they, the girls, had P.E. in the old gym with the warped floor. And afterward, Fred and the boys had a towel service, but the girls had to bring their own towels. After school, boys had the opportunity to participate in sports, but if you were a girl, your only opportunity was to cheer for the boys. “It’s just the way it is,” her mom had explained, but nonetheless, the injustice of it infuriated her.

But not this summer. No, not this summer at camp. Here at camp, she was a second-class citizen to no one. Here at camp, she was no one’s servant. Sure, there were chores they did after breakfast and flag ceremony, but they didn’t bother her because everyone made the mess and everyone helped clean it up. It wasn’t like everyone made the mess and only the girls cleaned it up. How she loved her one week a year of equality.
The Firelight Girls has five main characters, and Ruby on page sixty-nine is just one of them, but I think page 69 is pretty representative of the book in one important way: It examines why camp was so important to Ruby. The reason camp was important varies from person to person and some reasons, like Ruby’s, are unique to a time in history. It had never occurred to me that one reason to love camp would be to have a whole week of being a second class citizen to no one, that is until a woman from my mother’s generation said that to me when I asked her why camp had been so important to her. Ruby’s taste of equality leaves her wanting more than a husband that will treat her like a servant, so, when at her wedding reception she sees that’s exactly what he’s going to do, she runs and sets a messy chain of events into action.

Each of the characters in my book discover something profound at camp that changed their lives—their own reason camp was important. Ethel, the former camp director, discovered true love and her life’s work. Shannon discovered the limitations of competition and the virtues of cooperation. Along with that, she learned to appreciate poetry and to lighten up. Laura discovered not only her love of nature, a love that would lead her to find her husband as she hiked the Wonderland Trail, but perhaps even more importantly, she discovered peace.

All of those reasons were profound enough to lead these four women back to camp together just in time to meet Amber, a teen runaway, who discovers family at camp—something she’s never really had before.

The Firelight Girls is warm and uplifting with (spoiler alert!) a happy ending. Enjoy!
Visit Kaya McLaren's website.

Writers Read: Kaya McLaren.

--Marshal Zeringue