One Year in Coal Harbor

September 2012. 216p. 978-0-37586-697-9.
Gr 5-7–Primrose Squarp, heroine of Everything on a Waffle (Farrar, 2001), is back, perceptive and quirky as ever, as she narrates another year of events in Coal Harbor, British Columbia, picking up right where the last book left off. Primrose’s parents, charming Uncle Jack, and the rest of the cast provide ample fodder for Primrose’s hilarious narrative asides, even given several serious plot elements. Protestors arrive in town in response to a planned clear-cut of a local mountain, Miss Bowzer and Uncle Jack have ongoing miscommunication that threatens the romantic future Primrose envisions for them, and Bert and Evie take in foster son Ked, who becomes the best friend Primrose has always wanted. Capitalism, the democratic process, and run-of-the-mill events become wickedly funny in Horvath’s hands, with the resourceful characters emerging battered but victorious. A recipe at the end of each chapter again adds to the fun, with many reflecting Evie’s obsession with mini-marshmallows. Dashes of serious reflection on fear, love, and the unfairness that life doles out are seamlessly interwoven and add depth to the narrative. The resolution of the various plot strands feels a bit choppy, requiring a few leaps of faith that most readers will gladly take. Excellent fun surrounds nuggets of wisdom, making for a great read or read-aloud to be enjoyed on multiple levels, an experience enhanced by having read Everything on a Waffle first.
Primrose Squarp, doughty hero of Everything on a Waffle (rev. 5/01), has her previously-lost-at-sea parents back home, but the residents of Coal Harbor continue to need her varied and unusual talents. Uncle Jack remains resistant to Primrose’s plan for his romantic happiness. Bert and Evie clearly need an outlet for their nurturing energies now that Quincehead, their Cockapoo, is no more. What is the mystery of Ked, the new kid in town? Why has Miss Bowser suddenly added pierogi to the menu of her restaurant? And over it all looms the threat of a clearcut on Mendolay Mountain. Primrose is an unforgettable character, an energetic blend of optimism, smarts, and kindness, saved from the spunky girl cliché by a hint of reflective melancholy. This novel is funny from top to bottom, from the use of miniature marshmallows as an unlikely ingredient (in, say, baked potatoes) to surprising plot twists (pay attention to Primrose’s mother; readers of the Horvath oeuvre have met her before) to laugh-out-loud comments on the human condition to the edges where humor merges with wisdom and sadness. Nobody does middle grade like Horvath. sarah ellis

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