Priscilla Galloway was an English consultant in Willowdale, Ontario.
Snow Apples tells the story of Sheila Brary’s tempestuous sixteenth year. Sheila lives with her mother and two younger brothers in an isolated west coast community. The war in Europe is ending; Sheila’s father and older brother are both in the air force.
Sheila’s mother has been saving every possible cent of her family allotment money towards a house. Her irresponsible husband’s approaching discharge is unwelcome. She buys her precious land from Helga Ness, an isolated woman, somewhat crazed by grief. Helga values Sheila and makes the land sale conditional on Sheila’s being permitted to stay in school.
Conflicts in the story centre on Sheila, her boyfriend Nels, and her mother. Nels, a young builder, does not understand Sheila’s ambitions for education and a profession. He wants her to marry him. Sheila likes Nels and is sexually drawn to him. As Sheila sees it, her mother dislikes her; she is too much like her father. Mrs. Brary is afraid Sheila will have sex with Nels and get pregnant. She wants Sheila either to marry Nels or to stop seeing him. Eventually Sheila does indeed make love with Nels and arrives home disastrously late. Her mother goes to Nels’s home; acting “like a crazy woman” for three hours, she succeeds in alienating Nels. Sheila, however, finds herself pregnant.
Up to this point, the book is believable and real, including the bitter quarrel between the adult Brarys because Sheila’s mother has put the property in her own name. The rest of the novel is harder to swallow.
Sheila conceals her pregnancy for two and a half months and finishes her school year with high marks. She gets a waitress job in Vancouver. Her irresponsible father comes immediately to her assistance. He buys pills for Sheila at the drugstore, and Sheila, in horrendous pain, aborts the fetus of a baby boy and buries it by herself at sea. Helga cares for her and weeps with her before she goes back to Vancouver, ready to enter her nurse’s training.
This story is powerfully written, but it presents a number of problems.
Who is its audience? Most sixteen-year-olds are not much interested in historical novels. However, a young reader desperate for an abortion might believe, based on this book, that druggists have a drug which will induce an abortion at two and a half months, if they can be persuaded to sell it. They don’t have today, and anything around at the time would have been life-threatening to the mother in the required quantity, my doctor says. Sheila is shown as very ill, but she is able to dress and catch the boat for home and she makes a quick recovery under Helga’s care. A young woman might be dangerously misled. Moreover, it seems unfortunate that the family relationships here are so destructive. Sheila is shown as more mature and understanding than either of her parents.
This novel shows well the limitations that were the norm for women at the time. It may appeal more to adults than to teenager readers. Nonetheless, it is a strong first novel; it will be interesting to see Razzell’s next work.