In this verse novel, Liz Berry imagines the life of her great-aunt Eliza Showell, who was taken from her home in England at the age of 11 after her mother’s death and forcibly sent to Canada to work as an indentured servant, or “Home Child.”
The premise is tragic. Much of the book explores Eliza’s struggle to retain a sense of self and an identity in this life that was imposed on her. Several poems read like incantations in her efforts to remember her own name and those of the people she loves. Her voice is also under threat throughout, always at risk of being covered by those of adults telling her who she is and what to do or spreading rumours that could put her in danger.
There is a devastating poem early in the book in which Eliza keeps listing the names and ages of the girls who cross the Atlantic with her and share her fate, “Agnes, Eiza, Peg, Hilda. / Age 3, 5, 12, 7.”
There is light to be found in the book, though, things that anchor Eliza within herself: the Canadian country, with its white winters and the comforting presence of animals; the language Eliza uses, inherited from her Black Country roots (with a helpful lexicon at the end); and a fellow Home Child, who treats her in the same soft way she treats the nature around her.
Eliza’s story is to be handled just as delicately and its words will live on with you for a little while.