Just ask the author of Bridget Jones' Diary how useful the fictional diary format is in making an immediate emotional connection with a reader. It’s a tool as old as the novel itself, and now it’s being used to make Canadian history more relevant and accessible to young readers. Scholastic has created an entire series of historical novels in the form of diaries. This volume, Banished from Our Home, breaths life into the familiar story of the Acadian Deportation and translates it into emotions that young adults can identify with.
Angelique, the twelve year old author of the diary, has the familiar hardships of growing up. She has her share of family problems. A mother who nags and corrects and never seems satisfied with her. A pretty younger sister, appropriately nicknamed Belle, who loves to show her up and tattle on her for sloppy work. Brothers who are exasperating, irresponsible, and heartbreaking. She has friends that she confides in and acquaintances she despises, and she's just beginning to wonder if there's more to boys than she had ever suspected. Her character is charmingly flawed and honest enough to invite the reader to see her world through her eyes.
And what a world it is. Sharon Stewart reconstructs the daily lives of the Acadians through Angelique’s casual references to routine tasks. What she would see as mundane events have for us the quaint flavor of the “olden days.” She writes about repairing dykes, harvesting the salt marsh hay, celebrating a wedding and building a house for the newlyweds, and the day-to-day work of keeping up a farm.
The diary begins in March of 1755, the year of the Deportation. Even though the basic outline of the story is familiar, reading it in this dramatic narrative form gives it a new dimension. The author creates suspense about a known course of action by making us wonder how Angelique will perceive events.
We live with her through the anxious months when petition after petition is sent to Halifax, and her father, bearing one of the petitions, is detained without warning or promise of release.
We see with her the frustration of maintaining the farms and bringing in the harvest without the heads of the household. And we experience the uncertainty and the growing dread of the last days when it becomes clear what the English actually intend. It is one thing to know that the Acadian families at Grand Pré were aboard the ships for so many days before they actually sailed--it is another to read about the boredom, the difficulty of keeping the younger members of the family occupied, even the detail of smelling the smoke of their burning farms. The entire ordeal is made as real as today's newspaper.
The story follows the family through their journey at sea to their arrival in Baltimore and the perilous life they managed to eke out that first winter. Stewart brings the diary to a conclusion with a homecoming of sorts and a promise for the future. She then finishes off the story with an epilogue summarizing the later years of the Richard family. It is a welcome addition because, while the Richards are a fictional family, by the end of the book they have become so real that we want to know how it all ends for them.
With its young heroine and it’s somewhat simplified, one-sided version of Acadian history, The Acadian Diary is aimed at adolescents. Yet to limit it to them would be a loss. While the language and the concepts are simple enough, the story is compelling for all readers, and, like the best of the children's classics, refrains from talking down to the intended audience so the parents can listen in and enjoy as well.