190 pages
ISBN 0-88899-397-8
DDC jC813'.54





Reviewed by Patricia Morley

Patricia Morley is professor emerita of English and Canadian Studies at
Concordia University and an avid outdoor recreationist. She is the
author of several books, including The Mountain Is Moving: Japanese
Women’s Lives, Kurlek and Margaret Laurence: T


Frances is an imaginative girl who conjures up imaginary boys to share
her adventures in the bush on the edge of the small town where she
lives. She likes old-fashioned words like “bumptious” and
“serendipity,” which roll around her mouth like smooth stones.

When an old box marked “1873” is found in the family’s ruined
barn, Gran identifies the papers and books inside as the property of
Frances’s great-great-grandmother. They are written in Icelandic.
Frances’s great-aunt had tried to teach her Icelandic when she was
small, but as Gran reminds her, “you said you didn’t want to talk
like that anymore because the kids made fun of your accent.”

Frances, part sleuth and part bull dog, finds in the home for seniors
an old man who can read Icelandic. Mice and rot have destroyed much of
the papers, but Mr. Johannson (who becomes “Mr. J” in Frances’s
mind) manages to translate parts of what turns out to be a century-old
romance. Mr. J. praises Frances’s persistence. Frances learns many
lessons along the way, but particularly that the past is alive in the
present, influencing every act and offering a compass with which to
navigate the future.

This delightful tale of inner adventure and emotional growth is highly


Valgardson, W.D., “Frances,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 21, 2024,