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Parables of Our Province: A Book Review of Katie Bickell's Always Brave, Sometimes Kind

Looking for some light entertainment reading with a smash of unusual characters in a somehow familiar setting? Then look no further because you will find that and more in Katie Bickell’s debut novel: Always Brave, Sometimes Kind.

After reading the synopsis on the back cover I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The brief summary describes a collection of tales that follows the lives of some fictional regular Albertans between the years of 1990 to 2016. Although this synopsis is accurate, I was pleasantly surprised by the substance of the characters. They include a hockey mom, an aspiring local singer, a struggling university grad with a young family, and an idealistic social worker amongst several other characters. I enjoyed the first person narrative especially due to the unique qualities of each character. There were a couple of characters I could not relate to but this is a normal situation with fictional characters of any kind. However, the characters seemed to be well researched, typical folk I feel like I may have met before.

The stories are told from the internal perspective of each character. Through their thoughts and interactions we experience life in Alberta over the span of two and a half decades against a backdrop of the news and politics at the time of each story. Although each character has their secrets, this book is not gossipy, or written like a soap opera or a tabloid sensationalist style. You may even find yourself empathizing with the characters. The perspectives of these diverse characters are individual. They come from varying walks of life but their lives and histories are so intersected it is reminiscent of the “it’s a small world” axiom that is also a truism of both urban and rural Alberta.

Bickell’s writing style is very well organized, and Always Brave, Sometimes Kind is a smooth, leisurely read. I finished this book after only a couple of evening reading sessions because while leisurely, it is an engaging book. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the nostalgia of the past couple of decades that is directly related to Alberta, and to anyone who enjoys stories of a personal nature. I should also note that this book addresses some issues that Albertans, both government and citizens, need to work on. I believe that the writing is a clever way to bring attention to those issues. Even though this is work of fiction, it is also a set of parables for our province.


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