Susan Juby, an award-winning author of both adult and young adult literature from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, has won the 2016 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour for her novel, THE REPUBLIC OF DIRT.
The medal has been won by many of our top comedy writers in Canada, and now Susan Juby takes her place amongst them. I was asked to present her book, which I did with pleasure. I loved it. Here is what I had to say about it:
THE REPUBLIC OF DIRT is the sequel to THE WOEFIELD POULTRY COLLECTIVE, which was also shortlisted for the Leacock Medal for Humour. It carries on the story of the handful of so-called misfits that kept us laughing in that first book: people who are finding their path, each in his or her own way. It is one funny, heart-warming and beautifully written book.
Sara is eleven years old. She lives on Woefield Farm with Prudence, the young owner, Earl, who has saved up to buy into the farm, and Seth, a 21 year old recovering alcoholic. The book alternates between the points of view of these four highly original people and each voice is authentic and true.
Prudence has the energy of a small tornado. Until she gets sick and can’t seem to get better. Earl worries about her, worries about the farm. He is determined to help Prudence make a go of her market gardening, even though the land is rock hard and all the produce must be grown in raised beds.
Some would call Seth a loser, but not Prudence. She sees the best in everyone, including Seth, even though he is tied up in knots about his drinking, his sex (or lack of it) and a lot more. In his own words, “At the risk of sounding like a Stark, winter is coming and there’s a good chance I have seasonal affective disorder as well as resentments, irritability, sexual obsession, bedbug phobia, codependence and a barely restrained alcoholism.”
Helping Seth chart is course is Eustace, Prudence’s veterinarian boyfriend, Seth’s sponsor at AA. Eustace is devastatingly handsome, loves Prudence to distraction, and is having a difficult time with Prudence’s hard-headed determination to do everything herself, even when sick.
And, of course, there’s Lucky, the mule. The most devilish and mulish mule you have ever known. His arrival at the farm upsets a lot of apple carts. Literally and figuratively.
Oh, yes…Bertie, the sheep. Who is “a stabilizing presence on a farm with so many extreme personalities.”
Sara raises show chickens and is a devoted member of the Jr. Poultry Fanciers Club. Originally, her parents arranged to board Sara’s poultry at the farm but now, while going through an acrimonious divorce, they have dumped Sara on the farm as well. Much to Sara’s delight. She loves the farm and the others love her. Trouble arises when Sara’s self-centered parents make her custody part of their divorce wrangling and threaten the life she has made for herself at Woefield. An unfortunate and potentially dangerous incident gives them fuel for yanking Sara away and into the midst of their own turmoil.
This book is the very best kind of comedy. The kind that doesn’t shy away from echoes of sadness and regret. It will move you, totally involve you, and keep you in suspense, but always with hope.