One of the reasons I enjoyed Suzanne Costigan’s new young adult novel Empty Cup, is because it is set in Winnipeg and the places its young protagonist Raven frequents are all within walking distance of my home.
Raven works at a coffee shop at the Forks. The statue of Gandhi near Winnipeg’s new Human Rights Museum plays a significant role in the story. Raven often walks along Henderson Highway and Waterfront Drive and has a romantic moment with her boyfriend on the Disraeli Bridge. It was easy for me to visualize many of the scenes in the book because they take place in my neighborhood, in the places where I walk everyday.Empty Cup shouldn’t be a feel good novel, yet strangely it is. Raven is dealing with some big problems. Her mother, who admits to Raven she doesn’t love her, lives with a sleazy man named Trevor who Raven rightly fears. Raven’s kind biology teacher turns out to be anything but the white knight Raven longs to have ride into her life. Cole, the boy Raven lives with when her mother kicks her out of the house, has emotional problems that only the regular use of marijuana seem to ease.
Raven makes some poor choices in the novel but also some courageous ones. She graduates from high school, holds onto her part-time job and resists the temptation to become involved with drugs. Given all the things she has going against her how is that possible?
Recently I heard Kevin Chief speak. He is the representative in the Manitoba Legislature for the constituency where both Raven and I live. Kevin faced some significant challenges in his youth but says he managed to rise above them because he was fortunate to always have at least one adult that cared about him, often a teacher or a coach. He also was a good athlete with a passion for the game of basketball and that was a key to his salvation.
Raven too has one person in her life that genuinely cares about her. Sarah is the mother of Raven’s long time best friend Lyla, and Sarah is there for Raven when she really needs it, offering the affection Raven’s own mother can’t provide. Raven also has a passion that is a key to her salvation. She loves art and she gets into an art class where the instructor helps her realize just how talented she is.
So although Raven’s life is tough and sometimes almost unbearable to read about, her story is also one of hope, not in an idealistic impossible kind of way, but in a realistic, ‘it can be done’ fashion. Young people who read this novel, and who may feel their own lives are hopeless, will get a real sense that they too can survive and move forward.
The theme of the empty and full cup that Costigan weaves beautifully through the novel will especially appeal to readers. It reminded me of another Winnipeg landmark- the emptyful sculpture at the Millenium Library garden.
If I were still a high school English teacher Empty Cup would definitely be on my class reading list. Winnipeg high schools would do well to add a copy of Empty Cup to their libraries. It’s a young adult novel with a positive message and realistic characters set right in our home city.
Other posts about books set in Winnipeg…….