Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Perfect Gentle Knight by Kit Pearson

I finished Kit Pearson’s A Perfect Gentle Knight a week ago, but haven’t been able to get Corrie, the story’s eleven-year-old narrator, or her perfect gentle knight of a brother Sebastian out of my mind. They are so achingly real that it’s hard to let them go.

Set in Vancouver in the 50’s, the Bell family is both ordinary and extraordinary. Two years after the death of their mother, the six children have learned to rely on each other since their grief stricken father has thrown himself into work. Sebastian, the oldest, tenuously holds his ragtag siblings together partly through a game involving the Knights of the Roundtable. The lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur for Sebastian when he truly imagines that he is the reincarnation of Sir Lancelot. As Sebastian slips deeper into fantasy, Roz, the next oldest is increasingly saddled with parental responsibilities. Torn between family and the desire to be popular, twirl baton, and have dance parties like her peers, Roz downloads to Corrie. The middle child, Corrie does her best, but she is equally torn between a new best friend and trying to juggle the needs of her younger siblings and her father.

This might read as mere melodrama in the hands of a less skilled author. However, this is where Pearson shines. The picture she paints is so rich in historical and geographical details that they anchor the Bell children, their passions, insecurities and foibles. It’s easy to get caught up in Corrie’s life, and it is equally easy to see why the Bell children’s Arthurian fantasy is both a refuge and a trap. As Sebastian’s grip on reality slips, Corrie slides closer to that place where childhood and maturity collide. It is a tough place to be in and tougher place to write about. And yet, Pearson manages it all in such a perfect gentle way.

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