First-time novelist Wendy Ranby was born and raised in Rothsay, New Brunswick, but now calls Tottenham Ontario home. Under the Floorboards is a Young Adult (YA) novel, but I found it to be a very good read, so hopefully, parents,
Under the Floorboard (2018, Chocolate River Publishing) is the story of Aileen, the teen daughter of Hugh and Gloria. She has an older brother Scott. The year is 1979 and the setting is Toronto. Aileen and her mother have a strained relationship, to put it mildly. Her mother has a way of posing questions that easily push Aileen’s buttons which usually results in a fight, causing her to run to her room where she has a stash of snacks at the ready to seek solace in. Food is her method of avoidance coping. Aileen’s Aunt Bea (Gloria’s sister) is the person Aileen loves the most. Bea is widowed and lives in a large home in a fashionable area of Toronto. Up in Aunt Bea’s attic is Gloria’s “alone spot” where she can escape her cares by reading, drinking Pepsi and drawing or writing. She also has a “ritual” that she performs when up in the attic:
It was time. I lifted the loose floorboard in front of the space heater. I had discovered it years before, and the hollow space beneath it made it the perfect hiding spot. I had used it over the years to house the little treasures I found at Aunt Bea’s – old books, letters, and photographs – and my sketches and journals I worked on while I was visiting. It was my secret, even from Aunt Bea.
It is while putting away her items in their hiding spot, that she discovers another loose floorboard, one she had never noticed before. In it, she finds a bundle of papers. It is in this collection of papers that long-repressed memories of her sister Claire return to Aileen. Claire died from what was called “crib death” or SIDS as it is known today. The memory trigger is a picture that Aileen had drawn when about six years old, not long after her sister died. Aileen recalls a scene in which she believes Claire is being drowned in a bathtub by Gloria! Is it true? Is her memory correct? She is sure it is. Did her mother’s “baby blues” have anything to do with it?
It is these questions that cause Aileen to worry, especially since her mother and father have just announced that Gloria is pregnant again. This sets the stage for Aileen’s determination to seek out and expose her family’s secrets so that another “crib death” doesn’t occur with her new sibling.
Under the Floorboard was quite an exciting read, a bit suspenseful, and always with an air of mystery as we follow Aileen along as she dredges up more repressed memories, and finally confronts her family. I didn’t find the text or dialogues too formal in tone, nor did I find it condescending either. It was very level in nature and quite realistic, but I found it a bit of a stretch that a six-year-old could recall events so clearly nine years later. Who knows? Perhaps if I (or my parents) kept all my scribblings from that age I might recall things too. Perhaps it is better not knowing. I am putting Under the Floorboard on the 2019 longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award in the First Book category.
Under the Floorboard by Wendy Ranby
Chocolate River Publishing
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