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Mountain by Ursula Pflug

Reviewed by Ian Thomas Shaw

Ostensibly a work of young adult fiction, Mountain is a wonderful novel for all ages. Pflug, a stalwart in Canadian fiction, shines in this powerful narrative of a teenage girl on the brink of estrangement from her mother.

Seventeen-year-old Camden is the product of the failed marriage of Lark, a minor rock star, and Laureen, a new-age environmentalist and computer geek. For her summer vacation, Camden is forced to leave behind her comfortable Toronto lifestyle with Lark to accompany Laureen on a road trip from Vancouver to California. There, Laureen has a gig setting up the solar power supply and satellite internet connections for a month-long gathering of spiritual and personal healing.

After getting things up and running, Laureen heads off alone on a short trip to San Francisco to purchase some IT components. Camden believes that her mother has really left to see her lover, a man she despises and for good reason.

Laureen's trip takes longer than planned, and Camden finds herself increasingly feeling abandoned. Left with little money and possessing few camping skills, she turns for support to her mother's friend, Skinny, who is in charge of camp security. While Camden is also physically attracted to the young man, she is irked that Laureen and Skinny are so tight. At first, she assumes that Skinny is just another of her mother's ex-lovers but soon finds that his connection to Laureen is not at all sexual but something much more significant. As Camden becomes increasingly concerned that her mother has abandoned her, she discovers that she and Skinny share a dark secret.

The beauty of Pflug's writing is her ability to deliver a narrative which juxtaposes the consumer-driven frivolity of teenagers with their vulnerabilities to harm caused by adults around them. In an age where abuse of any kind is decried in very public spaces with strident calls for draconian measures, Mountain is about healing, not punishment. And in it, we are directed to the importance of victims helping other victims to heal.

There are few writers who can draw their readers into the personae of their characters as eloquently as Ursula Pflug. Mountain is a novel that leaves no room for detached bystanders. It sweeps you up and infuses you with the emotions of its young protagonist and in the end, leaves you enmeshed in her sorrow.

Mountain is published by Inanna Publications.

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