There was little documentation on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in the early 1980s when Carcross writer Eleanor Millard adopted a child who had been exposed to alcohol in utero.
Millard has tapped into that experience for the setting of her new novel. The book, called Summer Snow, follows protagonist Amanda Corelli as she adopts a struggling First Nations foster child from Ross River — an act that saves the girl from endless foster home shuffles, but alters Corelli’s life in unimaginable ways. A childless, then-married teacher in her early 30s, Corelli re-learns life as a single mother of a child afflicted by an unknown neuro-developmental disorder.
Millard is celebrating the release of this, her third book, on Nov. 7 at the Second Opinion Society in Whitehorse.
She says that although the novel is based on her own personal life experiences, it is a work of fiction.
“I wanted empathy for my characters,” Millard says. “Non-fiction is cold, stuck in reality, rather than in the emotional side of things. The reader is able to better connect to fictitious characters.”
Millard’s novel acts as a socio-historical map of the town of Carcross and the surrounding communities as they deal the first generation of children suffering from pre-natal alcohol exposure.
It is a novel full of archetypal Yukon characters to love, hate, question and somehow accept. The characters in Summer Snow include such heavy weights as Mabel Smith-Tagish foster mother, evangelical Christian, and full throttle aboriginal culture revivalist. She is a combination of colonial import and powerful ’70s movement activist that created hybrid First Nations characters across Canada.
Jacob the Anishinaabe priest from Northern Manitoba is another such example of a formidable character in Summer Snow. He bares resemblance to the local Father Mouchet.
“Jacob is a combination of a couple priests I know – good looking, outgoing, very unorthodox, down to earth and larger than life,” Millard says.
Tracy, the foster child who Amanda Corelli adopts, is affected by FASD. She seeks love and security through misdirected outlets.
Through the course of the book, protagonist Amanda Corelli fights endless battles with doctors, and counselors throughout the Yukon during the early stages of seeking answers, continuously being told, “it must be an Indian problem.”
Millard dared to tread in the dark territory surrounding the early diagnosis of individuals suffering from the effects of alcohol consumption on the fetus and the subsequential developmental issues that follow, and in the book Millard has Amanda wade through the same journey.
It was not until real-life social worker Michael Dorris and his book The Broken Cord came into Millard’s radar that the puzzle pieces to FASD started to connect for her. Dorris’s book is an autobiographical account of adopting a native American boy with FASD.
Summer Snow may have a similar effect for current readers on the subject –albeit through fiction. The novel reads not only as excellent narrative, but also as an in-depth look into the community dynamics of raising and supporting an individual with a pervasive syndrome.
Millard is a robust politician, social activist, grandmother, reformist and educator and her new book Summer Snow represents an empathic and truthful work of fiction.
Eleanor Millard’s third self-published novel, Summer Snow, sells for $20 and is available by ordering directly from the author online or at Mac’s Fireweed Books in Whitehorse.
Millard is celebrating the release with a reading on Nov.7 at 7 p.m. at the Second Opinion Society, located at 304 Hawkins St. in Whitehorse.