Primrose’s Voice

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.

-Megan A

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3 thoughts on “Primrose’s Voice

  1. Although I found Primrose to be unbelievable, largely because of her vocabulary and the way she phrased some of her thoughts, I did really enjoy that she was so involved in the adult world. It was especially interesting that none of the adults thought she was less than them or pushed her off as being childish. I think it also reflects the realities of a tiny town like Coal Harbour, if she didn’t get along particularly well with the small handful of children in the town, it makes sense to put her in with the adults. It’s particularly interesting because none of the texts we’ve read so far have really included children in the adult world or featured extremely prominent adult figures, with the exception of That One Summer, but in that text Windy and Rose are primarily observers of the adult world rather than participants.

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  2. Kevan says:

    I really, really, really loved Primrose. I agree that I didn’t think she was entirely realistic, but I feel like she is still someone a young reader could relate to and aspire to emulate. While this might not be a true-to-life representation of adolescence, it does provide the story with certain advantages.

    I think that One Year in Coal Harbour uses Primrose as somewhat of a didactic tool. Unlike children’s lit, where the didactic element is often provided in the way of a cutesy moralization (“sharing is caring, kids!”), Coal Harbour strives to teach young readers to be considerate and insightful. Primrose is relatable; imperfect, but lovable all the same. She is respected by the adults in the story and, I would assume, by the majority of readers.While her vocabulary and level of insight are advanced, she is a great portrayal of how a somewhat naive and innocent young adult might grapple with these issues if they took the time to slow down and think them through. Ultimately, I think that Coal Harbour wants the readers to walk away with the message that young people CAN be intelligent and insightful, if they foster these attitudes and aim to develop them for themselves.

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  3. Okay, well I didn’t really enjoy this book, probably because I’m kind of picky. I don’t generally enjoy books that I felt I’ve read before. For example, I’ve read Lord of the Rings, so I have very little interest in any other medieval fantasy unless it has something really radical to add to the genre because otherwise I just feel like I’ve read it before.
    And I feel very much like this is the sort of book I read as a child/preteen. I do, however, recognize that I, as a preteen, would have really enjoyed this book. As a child, I was definitely one of those kids that was older than my age. I was always hanging out with adults whenever I got the chance and I generally despised people my own age until I started going to university and even still, I kind of act like a retired old man because I don’t enjoy drinking or partying or anything of the nonsense you kids are into these days.
    But personal rant over, I have to agree that this book was not realistic, but that that’s not necessarily bad. Primrose does not really reflect an actual 12-year old in a lot of ways (her eloquence and her fascination with the adult world, to start) but she does in a lot of other ways. She’s naturally curios and seems to want to grow up very quickly.
    I would describe Primrose as a non-existed person, in that you would be hard-pressed to find a person of her age and her vocabulary, interests, and outlooks.
    I do, however, think that this book is good for young readers because it treats the protagonist as a little adult rather than a child, which I think preteens can enjoy. It also has the vocabulary element, which is great, from an English teacher perspective. It also deals with some issues in a way that I would describe as neither entirely realistic or unrealistic. It’s a good midway/transition text for youth in a midway/transition stage in their lives.

    -Christiane

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