Source of book: Audiobook from the library
One Year In Coal Harbor is the sequel to Everything On A Waffle, which we listened to back in 2015.
Since first discovering Canadian author Polly Horvath a number of years ago (my daughters introduced me to the books featuring the ludicrously absurd Mr. and Mrs. Bunny books), we have listened to a few others. While Northward to the Moon was a disappointment, the others have been enjoyable. Anyway, here is the complete list of Horvath books I have reviewed on this blog:
This book continues the story of Primrose after the miraculous return of her parents from being lost at sea. Without that drama, Primrose ends up having to create her own, mostly by trying to play matchmaker between Miss Bowser (the owner of the restaurant featured in the previous book) and Uncle Jack. She is not, shall we say, particularly skilled at that task.
However, two additional outside events bring drama to Coal Harbor - and to Primrose’s life. Her former foster parents, the lovably eccentric Bert and Evie, take in another foster kid, Ked, who ends up being Primrose’s best friend. And a logging company attempts to clear-cut Mendolay Mountain, leading to protests and civil disobedience from locals and out-of-town environmentalists.
As in the previous book (and Horvath generally), the strength of the book is the complexity of the emotions and the situations. Horvath doesn’t sugar coat stuff, and she avoids easy answers. The characters are realistic, with both strengths and weaknesses - no villains or saints to be found here. Just mostly decent people with their own flaws. And that includes the adults. Horvath examines the aftereffects of trauma, drug abuse, mental illness, and bullying in this book.
I particularly enjoyed the fact that Bert and Evie are front and center in much of the book. They came off as a bit clueless in the first book. Good hearted, but not great at listening. Which is mostly still true. But they are more lovable in this book, in part because Primrose (who is a horribly unreliable narrator) is able to see them more objectively when it comes to their care for Ked, rather than herself. Evie’s obsession with putting mini marshmallows in everything (clam chowder, anyone?) is hilarious - my kids and I joked about it all weekend.
Also enjoyable in this book are Miss Bowser (the one adult that listened to Primrose in the first book) and Uncle Jack, who is just a great character. He isn’t a stupid adult, as he could have been written. He is a bit bumbling at times, but he has his own insights which help Primrose grow over the course of the book. You really want Jack to succeed because he is a likeable, realistic, and decent guy.
I also appreciated that Horvath didn’t try to make Ked into a saint. He got to be a normal kid who had a hard life, and has been wounded by it.
Like Everything on a Waffle, this book ends each chapter with relevant recipes. Some are amusing - anything from Evie, certainly.
One thing to keep in mind throughout the book is that Primrose is flawed too. She isn’t always nice, she doesn’t tell the story in anything resembling an objective way, and she lets us watch her messy growth process up close. Some reviewers (see: Amazon user reviews), complain about the specifics of this issue, calling the characters “unlikeable,” the descriptions “harsh,” and so on. I disagree with both of those. Primrose isn’t particularly charitable in her assessments of other people - particularly on first acquaintance. So you get her uncensored thoughts, rather than clear truth about people. You have to look past Primrose’s voice to see people as they are.
I found this book to be a worthy sequel to the first one. The kids enjoyed it as well. Horvath’s books seem to be a mixed bag, but her good ones are quite good.
The audiobook, like that of Everything on a Waffle, was read by Kathleen McInerney, who is an audiobook veteran. I have no complaints about the job she does on these books - she’s a pro.