Sheppard, Mary C.
SHEPPARD, Mary C.
ADDRESSES: Office—School of Journalism, Ryerson University, 350 Victoria St., Toronto, Ontario MSB 2K3, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Educator and writer. Worked for Maclean's (magazine), Canada; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, began as an editorial assistant, became manager of editorial and regional resources; Women's Television Network, senior producer; Ryerson College School of Journalism, instructor of broadcast journalism.
AWARDS, HONORS: Ruth Schwartz Children's Book Award for a young adult/middle reader book, Ontario Arts Council/Ontario Arts Foundation/Canadian Booksellers Association, 2002, for Seven for a Secret.
Seven for a Secret (young-adult novel), Groundwood/Douglas & McIntyre (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Canadian journalism instructor and writer Mary C. Sheppard grew up in Newfoundland in a large family with eight daughters and spent summers in a port community very much like the setting of her young-adult novel Seven for a Secret. The story is about three cousins. Sisters Melinda—the narrator—and Rebecca live in the fishing village of Cook's Cove, where their cousin Kate visits them each summer. The story is set in 1960, and the town is so remote that indoor plumbing and electricity are just beginning to be available as a road connecting the village to the outside world is undertaken. Life revolves around church socials, parties, and the fishing industry, which has claimed many of the men of the families. Women tend to marry young, remain uneducated, and too often suffer abuse from their husbands. Voice of Youth Advocates contributor James Blasingame called the novel "an engaging and accurate description of the difficult existence many women live by default," and felt that for young women about to make life-changing decisions, it "might serve as an eye-opener."
The year the young women turn fifteen their lives begin to change. A stranger invites Rebecca to develop her artistic talent in Boston, but her mother absolutely forbids it, and Rebecca and her cousins ultimately learn facts about the family that have been hidden for years. Melinda, a very intelligent girl, becomes pregnant and accepts the fact that she will probably end up working in the cannery like her mother. Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper wrote that Sheppard's "description of a place both comforting and oppressive is written with perfect pitch, and she doesn't compromise with the ending."
Resource Links writer Victoria Pennell commented that "while this is mainly a story about the three cousins, it also paints a portrait of a typical small out-port Newfoundland community of the 1960s. … Sheppard gives us a glimpse into small community life and the interrelationship among the people as they work and socialize throughout the summer." School Library Journal's Sylvia V. Meisner felt that it may be difficult for readers to get "past the dialect."
Seven for a Secret does contain some scenes depicting love and sex, as they occur within the story. Island Parent contributor Nikki Tate-Stratton addressed the fact that Sheppard's book was removed from a local seventh-grade classroom after a challenge by a parent. Tate-Stratton called the novel "marvelous," "funny and poignant," and said that "the people of Cook's Cove are funny, gritty, and tragic, the kinds of fictional characters that stay with you for a long time." She found Sheppard's novel appropriate for its intended audience, noting that, by this age, young people are "on the cusp of becoming sexually active. By Grade seven, young people are aware of (and interested in) the kinds of life situations and dilemmas that will soon affect their friends, older siblings, and possibly themselves."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 15, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of Seven for a Secret, p. 566.
Island Parent, February, 2002, Nikki Tate-Stratton, review of Seven for a Secret..
Resource Links, April, 2002, Victoria Pennell, review of Seven for a Secret, p. 40.
School Library Journal, December, 2001, Sylvia V. Meisner, review of Seven for a Secret, p. 146.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 2001, James Blasingame, review of Seven for a Secret, pp. 363-364.*