Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 13 to 17
- Grade: 9 to 12
Colleen Lutzak, a talented young Ukrainian musician from northern Alberta, struggles to maintain a sense of identity as her awareness of the world expands.
Growing up in the small northern Alberta community of St. Paul, Colleen Lutzak has both positives and negatives to deal with – she has an abundance of musical talent, excellent grades in school, and a close extended family. On the other hand, she has a melodramatic mother, a nemesis named Carla Senko who somehow manages to screw up every triumph Colleen closes in on, and a cousin named Kalyna.
Kalyna is Colleen’s alter ego – they have the same name in different languages – and Kalyna is a mystery. A grown woman who once had a family, Kalyna talks and acts like a child. She loves Colleen’s music more than anything in the world, and brings out every protective instinct her young cousin has.
Colleen vigorously practices her youthful idealism as well as her talent. This mindset means life’s lessons will be particularly hard on her. Her beloved music teacher, who shared and supported her pride in her Ukrainian heritage, suddenly dies. Colleen fails miserably in her first attempt at university in Edmonton. She is so determined to get away from all the “disappointments” of home that she registers to attend the United World College campus in Swaziland for a year.
Obviously, Swaziland is an utterly foreign experience. Colleen meets young women from truly dire political and social circumstances all over the world. She realizes how sheltered her life in Canada has been. Her sense of identity and self-worth is challenged by her foreign surroundings, her homesickness, the suicide of her closest friend. And the sudden death of Kalyna.
This final tragedy forces Colleen to face adult decisions about the purpose to which she should devote her life and her talent.
About the author
Originally from St. Paul, Alberta, Lisa Grekul has lived in Mbabane (Swaziland), Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver. She completed her B.A. and M.A. degrees at the University of Alberta, and she holds a Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia. Now residing in Kelowna, she teaches Canadian literature in the Department of Critical Studies at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan. Balancing a talent for fiction and skill for scholarly inquiry, Grekul's published works investigate the role and place of fourth- and fifth-generation Ukrainians in Canada. Leaving Shadows: Literature in English by Canada's Ukrainians (University of Alberta, 2005) is her second book; her first, Kalyna's Song (Coteau, 2003), was shortlisted for the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Best First Book Award and the inaugural Kobzar Literary Award. Currently, she is at work on a book- and film-project, (Con)temporary Nomads: Canadian Autobiography and the Search for Home, focused on Eastern European diasporic communities in Canada.
- Short-listed, Kobzar Literary Award
- Short-listed, Books in Canada, First Book
- Short-listed, Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Best First Book Award
"Teens struggling with questions of identity and belonging will empathize with Colleen's uncertainties and admire the grounded heroine who emerges.
Publisher's Weekly Review of Kalyna's Song