1024 A city kid goes rural

The Ride Home
by Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Victoria: Orca Books, 2020
$9.95 / 9781459821422

Reviewed by Valerie Green

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Editor’s note: The West Coast Book Prize Society announced on April 8, 2021, that The Ride Home, by Gail Anderson-Dargatz, has been shortlisted for the Sheila A. Egoff Prize in the 2021 BC and Yukon Book Prizes. Winners will be announced on Saturday, September 18th, 2021 — Richard Mackie

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Gail Anderson-Dargatz has produced a delightfully poignant young adult book with The Ride Home, published by Orca Book Publishers as one of their Orca Currents series.

From the very first page with descriptive passages like “the bus smells like rotten oranges, sweaty running shoes and cheese,” the author will hook all middle school readers into her story with language they will understand and find amusing.

But there is also a much deeper message in this book told through the eyes of 13 year-old Mark, a city kid who has moved to a small rural town to live with his grandmother because his mother had to go into rehab and could no longer look after him.

Mark hates the fact that he has had to move even though he loves his grandma. He misses his mother and all his friends in the life he left behind in Vancouver, and is embarrassed by the reason he had to move away from his mother, which he has no desire to share with others. He has little interest in making new friends and this is put to the test on the school bus ride home.

The theme of fitting into a new school goes one step further in Anderson-Gargatz’s book. Although most of the kids tease him and their behaviour is quite obnoxious on the bus, the reader will soon realize that even the unkind kids often have a reason for their behaviour. Many have problems of their own to deal with.

When Mark first encounters the bus driver, he sees “a woman about the same age as Gran, in her sixties. And she wears a fedora, like an old man’s hat….” Mark states “she appears worn out, like she’s been driving the school bus for a while now,” and when she nods at him and asks him to take a seat, he wonders where on earth he can sit because all the seats appear to be occupied. This, he decides, is not at all like riding a city bus on his own.

Things get steadily worse as the author introduces the reader to a myriad of even stranger characters who all seem very odd and definitely determined to ostracize Mark from their inner circle.

The smallest kids are in the front of the bus and sitting with them is a girl about Mark’s age who he thinks “is clearly weird” because she is reading a textbook about how the brain works. From then on it seems everyone on the bus has his or her own little group, but Mark hopes he will only have to endure this hostility for a short while until he can go back to the city and live with his mother again.

Gail Anderson-Dargatz. Photo by Mitch Krupp

As Mark observes the mayhem on the bus he mentally gives each kid a name. There’s “weird girl,” “Emo, the Grim Reaper,” and the “cheese guy,” who constantly flips pieces of cheese in the air. The driver seems too jaded and worn out to issue much discipline as the journey continues, although she does frequently pull the bus over and stop in order to warn them all to settle down.

But then tragedy strikes and slowly Mark begins realize that all these kids have issues just like he does and, once he comes to understand that, he finds a way to become friends and even enjoy the next ride home.

The Ride Home will both help kids fit in when they have to change schools and learn to understand and accept the issue of mental illness and depression.

Gail Anderson-Dargatz is an award-winning author of over a dozen books and also teaches aspiring authors how to write fiction. She lives in BC’s Shuswap region.

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Valerie Green

Valerie Green was born and educated in England where she studied journalism and law. Her passion was always writing from the moment she first held a pen in her hand. After working at the world-famous Foyles Books on Charing Cross Road, London, followed by a brief stint with M15 and legal firms, she moved to Canada in 1968 where she married and raised a family, while embarking on a long career as a freelance writer, columnist, and author of over twenty non-fiction historical and true-crime books.  She is currently working on her debut novel Providence, which will be published soon as the first of The McBride Chronicles, an historical four-generational family saga bringing early BC history alive. Now semi-retired (although writers never really retire!) she enjoys taking short road trips around BC with her husband, watching their two beloved grandsons grow up and, of course, writing. Editor’s note: Valerie has recently reviewed books by Alan Twigg, Leslie HowardD.B. CarewCaroline AddersonDean UngerJody HedlundDora Dueck, and Tara Moss.

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The Ormsby Review. More Books. More Reviews. More Often.

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of B.C. books and authors. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Wade Davis, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

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