Emaline has a happy, normal life until a tragedy changes everything. Even though Emaline has had her life turned upside down, her unlikely friendship with Angus teaches her that there is always beauty in the world and that love can take many forms. Canadian author Pamela Porter crafts a beautiful story of friendship, overcoming adversity, and compassion using free verse poetry. The Crazy Man won the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2005.
“It is 1965, and twelve-year-old Emaline lives on a wheat farm in southern Saskatchewan. Her family has fallen apart. When her beloved dog, Prince, chased a hare into the path of the tractor, she chased after him, and her dad accidentally ran over her leg with the discer, leaving her with a long convalescence and a permanent disability. But perhaps the worst thing from Emaline’s point of view is that in his grief and guilt, her father shot Prince and then left Emaline and her mother on their own.
Despite the neighbors’ disapproval, Emaline’s mother hires Angus, a patient from the local mental hospital, to work their fields. Angus is a red-haired giant whom the local kids tease and call the gorilla. Though the small town’s prejudice creates a cloud of suspicion around Angus that nearly results in tragedy, in the end he becomes a force for healing as Emaline comes to terms with her injury and the loss of her father.” – House of Anansi Press
- The Crazy Man by Pamela Porter
- Publisher: House of Anansi Press, 2005
- Format & Genre: YA Fiction, Historical Fiction
- Age Range: 10-15 years old
- Themes: Friendship, Disability, Mental Illness, Compassion
- Source: Library Copy
As a girl who grew up in Alberta, I have personal affinity for stories that take place in the prairies. When I found out that this was a novel about a young girl on the prairies AND it was written in prose, I knew I had found a gem. The Crazy Man by Pamela Porter is a beautiful story of a young girl, Emaline, and how a tragic accident changes her outlook on life. The novel addresses some very important issues, such as living with a physical disability, and mental illness.
After Emaline is hurt in a farm accident, she loses her dog Prince, the ability to walk, and her father disappears. Emaline blames herself for her dog’s death, and her father’s decision to run away. To make matters worse, Emaline’s mother can’t work the farm by herself and can’t afford to pay someone to help her. Desperate, her mother goes to the mental institution in town to see if they have someone who would be able to help her work the farm for free. They enlist the help of an Angus, a gentle giant who loves nothing more than to watch things grow. Despite Angus’ kindness and timid nature, the townspeople see him as dangerous and often call him names. I’ll be totally honest, reading the book was very emotional for me, and there are many moments you will cry, both from sadness and joy. I’m a sucker for animals, so when Prince the dog dies in the very beginning of the book I was bawling. But the story has a very happy ending to soften some of the more emotional points in the story.
The setting of the story is 1965 Saskatchewan, so events like the Vietnam War and the Cold War feature, although not prominently. The attitudes of the time are accurately portrayed, with anyone who is different receiving less than compassionate treatment by the townspeople. We have come a long way in our understanding of disabilities and mental illness, but this novel helps highlight how easy it is to judge others we don’t understand. All though the story is told from Emaline’s point of view, I think the true protagonist of the story is Angus and his ability to be kind regardless of the way he is treated. Emaline’s growth as a protagonist comes in accepting the changes that have happened in her life, and most importantly she realizes it is not her fault her father left.
Because the novel is written in prose, the pages are not text dense and the vocabulary is condensed. The reading level of the book is about grade 4/5, but the content make it engaging for any student in middle school. It is a great choice for older readers who are struggling, as it allows them to engage with a sophisticated, high interest story without worrying about vocabulary or reading speed. The half empty pages make the novel approachable and eliminate the intimidation of reading. As someone who does not consider themselves a fast reader, I was almost able to finish the book in a 3 hour sitting, and to be honest I was so engrossed I didn’t want to put it down! This would be a great book to read aloud with your middle schooler, not only so you can discuss the books themes, but to enjoy the beautiful prose as well.
We often disregard poetry as something we do in school and then never think about again. I hope that by reading The Crazy Man you and the young people in your life can gain an appreciation for poetry and the beauty it can bring into our lives.