Whilst reading One Year in Coal Harbour, I didn’t find too many things which stood out to me in terms of plot and theme, but I found that Primrose, as a character and more significantly, the voice of this novel, really interested me.
Primrose’s vocabulary may or may not be realistic, admittedly. But her vocabulary as well as her narrative storytelling and observations makes Primrose clever, intelligent, self-aware, and most of all allows her to make observant and candid judgments on her surroundings. Unlike what is normally expected of young narrators, Primrose includes herself and her narrative in the “adult world” even more so, arguably, than she does with youth. Again, whether this is realistic or not is up for debate- I mean I’m sure we all feel that we were exceptionally moral, intelligent, and inclusive at that age, and perhaps we were, but Primrose’s narration, voice, and character still feels like an anomaly to me and something I really enjoyed reading. I would also enjoy knowing Primrose, as a side note. Perhaps as an adult reader I am more drawn to her than a ounger person would be, but nonetheless I found her exceptionally charming and endearing.
The way she treated adults, their lives, and their emotions emphasized that they were people too, and not just authority figures. Adults (though curiously, not her parents quite as much) were very present in this novel and Primrose spends a good deal of her story working out the relationships these adults have together and with their respective ideas on Coal Harbour. She makes some pretty poignant conclusions, I figure, and not in a “cutesy” way, but in a way that seemed surprisingly mature for someone her age.
Primrose craves intelligent company, and though she does admit to a longing for a good friend her age, she doesn’t seem at all opposed to hanging out with adults where many of the protagonists in the other novels we studied interacted more or less just with other youth. Though she does find companionship with Ked, she certainly feels bored with Eleanore, who once told her she was weird because she “thought about things” (pg 48).
The adults, too, in this book seemed very inclusive in terms with how they dealt with youth. Everyone treats Primrose with respect, and though she can be ignored by her parents at times, Primrose is largely regarded as just a younger person as opposed to a child.
I like this. I really like this. I like how Primrose and the adults in this novel are dealt with together. I like that the adults sometimes act childishly, and Primrose mature. I want to see more of this in YA fiction because I think it gives youth a kind of agency and that narrators like Primrose respect a young adult’s thought process, intelligence, and value in a community. It makes young adults part of a bigger picture, and Primrose’s relationship with Jack, Bert, and Evie are valued as her friends, role models, and substitute parents. Again, this kind of inclusive community is something I really liked seeing, because people aren’t just raised by their parents and then form their world view exclusively on their own or with their peers. There is a larger picture, and I think One Year in Coal Harbour captures it.
In terms of readership audience, I do believe this novel is meant for pre-teens, but I think that if it were read to a child they could enjoy it, and that teenagers may understand the nuances and greater vocabulary of the novel. It wasn’t the most exciting novel I have ever read, but I personally want to see more novels like this, or at the very least more narrators like Primrose- wise beyond her years, and 5 times as charming as I’d come to expect of narrators her age.