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The Farmerettes by Gisela Tobien Sherman


Topics of Interest: friendship, farm life, war, gender roles, historical fiction, secrets

Curriculum Connections: English, World History (WWII), Environmental Studies, Equity Studies

Gender: F/M

Age: 14+

Blurb: Consider yourself lucky if you’ve never swung a pickaxe. It’s a heavy, awkward tool with a blunt edge on one side and a sharp point on the other. Its purpose is to break up hard earth or stone, which is exactly what I used it for. I even got to be pretty good at it.

I may have been good with the tool, but I certainly didn’t enjoy using it. (My misery, of course, was the whole point of the activity.) My parents prided themselves in unusual, yet highly productive punishments for when my sister and I misbehaved. The pickaxe punishment involved removing the hundreds of agave cactus plants from our backyard. I missed curfew? 20 plants. Mouthed off? 35 plants. You get the point.

Throughout the summer of 1943, young women from across Canada become pros at swinging hoes and other farming instruments. They also master picking strawberries, plucking peaches, and pulling weeds. Desperate to help the war movement yet weary of sewing and holding fundraisers, the women choose to assist local farmers in tasks normally filled by the young men serving as soldiers overseas.

Living together in a converted barn, the young women quickly form friendships of a lifetime. They share stories, sing and dance, and long for their loved ones fighting on the front. But despite their newly formed bond with one another, two women hold secrets so dangerous that they would have damning ramifications if ever revealed.

The women are sunburned, blistered, and having the time of their lives. But this is no summer camp: for two secret-keepers, at least, it’s a battleground littered with tough decisions, truth, and consequences; and for one of them—life or death.

Flavour: “Could she move away? Maybe she’d get better in a new place. She had to get away from here, the whispers, the strange looks. The poster hanging in the hall outside the bathroom all month offered her the chance. Hard physical work on a farm in the wholesome countryside—it would help her make a clean new start. She prayed the Farm Service Forces would cure her.” (32)

“She turned to see the blonde girl screaming as she backed away from the rooster. The bird had stretched his wings and puffed his feathers to double his size. With beady eyes glaring, sharp beak stabbing the air aggressively, he charged after her like a bull…. Other girls scattered in all directions. The rooster hissed and pecked menacingly closer. The blonde girl ran, slipped, and landed in a moist lump of manure.” (45)

“As soon as she reached the top of the stairs, she knew something was amiss. Stella and a group of girls stood around her bed, deep in conversation. When they saw her, they stopped dead…. ‘You thought you could sneak in here, pretend you’re one of us,’ said Stella, her cheeks red with self-righteous indignation. She shook the envelope at her. ‘You left this on your nightstand.’” (210-11)

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