Worry Stones by Joanna Lilley
(Ronsdale Press $18.95)

Review by Cherie Thiessen

It just doesn?t seem to work if parents put their dreams ahead of their children?s. Take Margaret and Alasdair Ross, for example.

Their three daughters are all intelligent and gifted. There?s no question the family has a good genetic pool.

Maddie, the oldest, has become a well-known artist, Sophie is on her way to being a household name as an actress, and Jenny, the youngest, is the academic and intellectual one, working on her doctorate but also drawn to art and especially carving.

But genes aren?t all there is to it. As parents, Margaret and Alasdair are easily distracted with dreams and plans that fluctuate. They encourage and assist their daughters in their goals, but only until their own dissatisfaction with their lives motivates them to try something different.

The UK family is uprooted several times. Jenny, the responsible one, has learned to read the signs of an upcoming upheaval. When she?s 13, her parents move from Brighton to Peebles in Scotland in order to run a B&B, and her two horrified sisters, now 18 and 16, whose plans and dreams involve London, refuse to make the move with them and jeopardize their futures.

The two eldest sisters leave their new Scottish home almost immediately, without letting their younger sister in on their plans, and Jenny, who loves the new home in Scotland, is left on her own.

Why didn?t the pair tell Jenny what they were planning? Why doesn?t Sophie write her or answer her phone calls? It seems her siblings are lost to her even though she tries hard to get the family back together, convincing her parents to visit the sisters? flat for Christmas, but the effort doesn?t work.

When Jenny is 16, her parents decide to move to a commune. They sell up the home Jenny has come to love so much, and give the money to Viparanda, the founder of a religious sect called Gallachism.

Jenny, adrift, refuses to set foot in the commune and continues her studies, having lost her entire family and her beloved home. Maddie and Sophie have had their own issues to deal with. It?s an uphill climb when a family fractures and parents just don?t seem to care.

All of which is the backdrop for a story that opens in 2000 when Jenny is 25. She?s in Nunavut, interviewing Inuit artists and researching their art for her doctorate in art history. The normally solitary and focused young woman loves her time here and is drawn to the stark Arctic landscape. She makes friends and is about to engage in a serious relationship with what will be her first boyfriend since a traumatic experience she had in her second year of university.

In Nunavut she gets the news that her mother, whom she has not seen for eight years, has had a stroke and is in the hospital in Inverness. She contacts her sisters, neither of whom has any intention of going to see their mother. Jenny, reluctantly books a flight back to Britain. Someone has to do it.
Anyone with siblings can relate to these fractures that occur when someone bears the brunt of family duties.

Jenny will be delayed for longer than she hopes and expects; she will need to put her academic research on hold while she tries to unravel what is going on with her mother. Did she leave the commune voluntarily? And why is Alasdair not with her? Did her mother escape from the commune and is Alasdair trying to find out where she is?

Jenny tries again to involve her siblings for assistance. From an early age she has collected stones that have attracted her, stones she turns to when troubled. But worry stones will not get her back to the Arctic where she could resume her studies and her budding relationship.

Stuck with playing the thankless role of caregiver, Jenny cannot turn her back on her disabled mother. Her mother needs an advocate to protect her from some of the people who are paid to help look after her. Obviously, it would help a great deal if her sisters would step up to the plate. Guilt in families easily generates rifts.

Jenny certainly deserves happiness in the end and the reader hopes she finds it.

Despite a few awkward shifts in the storytelling, Worry Stones has a credible plot with believable characters. making this a promising debut novel after a collection of stories and two books of poetry.


Cherie Thiessen writes from Pender Island.