A spellbinding and wise coming-of-age story, Shelter draws readers into the precarious world of two young sisters in search of their mother, and brings to life the breathtaking B.C. landscape through which they travel.
Maggie Dillon lives with her family in a small, roughly furnished cabin in B.C.’s Chilcotin region, where the land and the native peoples who’ve always called it home have taken in both pioneer settlers and latecomers like the Dillons. Her sister, Jenny, is the elder of the two, but Maggie seems beyond her years with how much she worries about what might happen to her family, so certain she is that threats to her family’s cozy but fragile life in Duchess Creek are never far away. Her beautiful mother, Irene, takes the girls on magical camping adventures and has a carefree love of life. Maggie’s careful father, on the other hand, takes her on outings to the bush where he shows her how to build lean-tos using leaves, sticks and fir boughs. Just in case. You never know when you might need to find some shelter for the night.
When her father is killed in a logging accident, Maggie thinks her worst fear has come true, but his death is only the first blow in the destruction of her family. Soon her mother, the one person Maggie has never worried about, abruptly drops off her girls in Williams Lake to billet with the gloomy Bea Edwards and her wheelchair-bound husband, Ted. Irene promises she’ll be back for them, but weeks turn to months and then to years.
When trouble finds the girls for the third time, it comes for Jenny, and fourteen-year-old Maggie decides that the time has come to search out their mother and repair their fractured family. Her quest not only to find but to understand her mother brings the novel to a powerful, wrenching conclusion.
Shelter’s emotional richness, and Maggie’s distinctive voice, evoke the bestselling novels of Miriam Toews and Mary Lawson. Greenslade’s prose captures the exquisite beauty of the Chilcotin, the precious comfort of family and the poignant realization that we may never fully understand the people we love.
Shelter was first published as part of Knopf and Random House Canada’s renowned New Face of Fiction program, which each year brings the cream of the crop of Canada’s first-time novelists to readers, and has launched the careers of numerous authors who have taken their place amongst Canada’s best. From the start, Shelter received outstanding reviews, and the book has since been named as a finalist for the B.C. Book Prizes’ Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and for the Evergreen Awards in Ontario. Shelter has also been published in the United States and in Britain – where the country’s largest book chain, Waterstones, named it one of the eleven best debut novels of the year – and rights have been sold to publishers in Germany and the Netherlands.
Frances Greenslade was born in St. Catharines, Ontario, and grew up with four sisters and one brother, playing among the grapes and orchards of the Niagara Peninsula. The family moved to Winnipeg when Frances was ten, and she would live there for the next fourteen years, attending Springfield Collegiate High School in Oakbank and then completing an English degree at the University of Winnipeg.
After moving to Vancouver and briefly working for TV Guide, Frances decided to pursue writing as a career; she returned to school, this time the University of British Columbia, and completed her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing in 1992. She met her husband soon after, and together they moved to Regina.
Having called four provinces home by this point, Frances began to wonder what the notion of home meant anymore, to migrant Canadians like her. Her first book, A Pilgrim in Ireland: A Quest for Home (published in 2002), was the result of Frances trying to figure out the answer to that question. The memoir, which won the Saskatchewan Book Award for Non-Fiction, tells of the physical and spiritual journey Frances undertook to seek out her family’s roots in Ireland.
By the Secret Ladder: A Mother’s Initiation, was published in 1997, a year after Frances gave birth to her son, and tells of Frances’s often dramatic experiences as a new mother. She writes with candour about what it’s really like for women to go through childbirth and take the leap into motherhood – with all of its lows and highs – in ways that authors of books on becoming a mother rarely do.
In 2005 Frances and her family moved to Penticton, in the southern Okanagan, where her love of the B.C. landscape flourished and was a source of inspiration in writing Shelter, her first novel. As Frances has said, the freedom of writing fiction was eye-opening: “As I began work on my novel, Shelter, I remember telling my editor, ‘This is way easier. I can make things up.’ Shelter is fiction but it draws on many of my own worst fears.” In addition to writing, Frances teaches English at Okanagan College’s Penticton campus. She is currently working on her next book, which is set in rural Manitoba and Bombay in the 1970s, and is tentatively entitled Sing a Worried Song.
“Poignant, tender and vivid, Shelter traces the relationship of two daughters with their missing mother through family stories. Greenslade’s gorgeous landscapes and loving attention to her characters make this journey through loss and survival unforgettable. I was glued to every page.”
—Eden Robinson, author of Monkey Beach
“This book casts a strong spell––the landscape is so vividly rendered, it is a character all on its own, and sisters Maggie and Jenny are unforgettable in their resilience. Greenslade depicts the battle between different types of love with harrowing intensity and quiet compassion. Shelter shows us how wilderness can be a safer haven than a home with four walls, but also how love, despite its heartbreaking unpredictability, remains the shelter we desire most.”
—Jamie Zeppa, author of Every Time We Say Goodbye
“From the very first page, this eloquent, evocative book crept into my heart and wouldn’t go away. I think it will linger inside me for a long, long time—like a powerful dream or one of those take-your-breath-away kind of tales that someone tells you in childhood and years later, still haunts you. Shelter is an unforgettable novel about love, loss, family and what it means to go home.”
—Mira Bartok, author of The Memory Palace
“The longing for a lost mother has rarely been expressed so soulfully. The yearning of these two vulnerable young sisters for their mother, who has disappeared, is palpable. I was entirely absorbed in their precarious situation and their desire to find her, yet aware that their mother’s gift was the resourcefulness they needed to survive. Greenslade is a fresh new voice that you are sure to hear again.”
—Bobbie Ann Mason, author of The Girl in the Blue Beret
“Shelter is a beating heart of a book, alive with Greenslade’s fierce imagination, her acute descriptions of the natural world, her sure hand with narrative.”
“In prose as lush and vivid as its British Columbia landscapes, Frances Greenslade’s debut novel, Shelter, offers an achingly beautiful story of loss, longing and hope. I love this book.”
—Will Allison, author of Long Drive Home
“The Chilcotin area of British Columbia in the 1970s is intensely realised in a combination of family saga, local superstition and love for the blue summers and deep winters of this remote region…[a] yearning and beautifully articulate work.”
“A new voice has emerged from the varied wilderness of the Canadian fiction scene which is as clear as a glacier-fed stream and as compelling as that which tells a haunting story by the campfire.”
“A harrowing, haunting and exquisitely written novel about sisters, mothers, daughters, and whom we love and why. The characters are so alive, you feel them breathing on the page. Loved. Loved. Loved.”
—Caroline Leavitt, author of Pictures of You