Thursday, March 16, 2006

Last Stop Sunnyside by Pat Capponi

This is another Advance Reading Edition that I received from Harper Collins Canada, and also a mystery, so I was extremely curious to see how Last Stop Sunnyside would compare to Dark Tort. I'm pleased (relieved?) to say that I liked this book very much. It wasn't an edge-of-your seat thriller, but it was an enjoyable read with believable characters whose actions made sense - the author made me care about these people and cheer them on.

Last Stop Sunnyside is the first in a planned series of novels about Dana Leoni, an intelligent young woman who has, due to some unhappy circumstances, ended up living in a rooming house in Parkdale, a down-and-out area in Toronto. Dana befriends many of her housemates, who are a colourful but good-hearted bunch of people, and together they are grieving the disappearance and subsequent death of their friend Maryanne. Maryanne was unemployed, and had a known drinking problem. Her death is ruled a suicide by the local police, but Dana and her friends can't let the matter rest and decide to find out what really happened to her.

There were a lot of things to like about this book. The descriptions of Toronto, particularly of the Parkdale neighbourhood, were vivid, and I especially enjoyed the "inside" view of homeless, mentally ill and other disenfranchised people. It's rare to read a novel that shows, with such sympathy and believability, what it's like to live on the "underbelly" of Canadian society. Apparently Capponi is drawing on her personal experience of living in Parkdale and in various mental health institutions - the bio on the back cover describes her as a "psychiatric survivor" and "one of Canada's leading mental health care advocates". Last Stop Sunnyside is certainly a creative and interesting way for Capponi to draw on her own experiences and give readers a glimpse into the life she's led, but it is never preachy. I don't get the sense that Capponi has an agenda - she's just telling a good story.

On a totally unrelated note, I hope that when this book is actually published they find a better author photo.

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