Elvis, Me, and the Lemonade Stand Summer
Elvis, Me, and the Lemonade Stand Summer
Okay, so it might not have been the real Elvis. After all, it had been widely reported that he had been dead for almost a year. But then, you never really know for sure, right? A lot of magazines and newspapers at the Food Mart checkout claimed that he was still alive, and every once in a while, he was photographed hanging out in places like laundromats. So it was entirely possible that he had pulled up to my lemonade stand in a gold Sun Bug.
Truly, 11, lives at the Eagle Shores Trailer Park on the Vancouver Island Coast Salish reserve. She looks forward to a summer of loneliness and boredom. Her mother, Clarice, is rarely home, and Truly has no friends. Since her mother disappears for days at a time with new boyfriends, Truly must rely on the owner of the trailer park, Andy El (Ella Charlie is her real name), for friendship and support. Andy El helps Truly set up a lemonade stand to get her started on a summer activity which might even earn her some money. “It was to give me something to do through this whole long, hot, boring summer, since she knew I had nothing to look forward to at the trailer park.”
Truly is thrilled when a man who looks just like Elvis stops to buy a drink from her lemonade stand. He decides to rent a trailer and stay for the summer. Truly now believes she has met Elvis Presley! Later that week, she visits a farm and finds a new litter of puppies. She instantly falls in love with one of them and dreams of adopting it. How will she find the money to feed it, and will Clarice even let her keep it? Clarice has a hard time making ends meet with her job at the bar and her part-time sewing business. She spends her money partying with boyfriends who never last long. Truly has a grandmother, Mrs. Bateman, in town who hates her and her mother. She has no idea who her father is until one day a friend of her mother says that she has seen him in Vancouver. Truly starts dreaming of taking a trip to Vancouver to find her father.
As the summer progresses, Truly’s life slowly changes. She is making money from the lemonade stand while her mother spends more and more time away from home, leaving Truly to fend for herself and to rely on Andy El. The look-alike Elvis befriends her while she starts building relationships with Andy El’s relatives, Raymond Joseph and Esther, and Esther’s daughters, Agnes and Linda. When neighbours donate their used books to her lemonade stand, she starts reading Agatha Christie novels. She also learns to make jam with Andy El. It turns out her summer is not boring after all! However, she fears a disaster is coming. “I should have known that wouldn’t last. For me, happiness was always a fleeting thing.” (p. 72)
Elvis, Me, and the Lemonade Stand Summer is a well-written novel about a brave young girl who struggles to survive under difficult circumstances. With one already absent parent and a mother who cares only for her own needs, Truly must learn to fend for herself. She is self-sufficient and resourceful, but she is only 11-years-old. When Truly’s mother finally deserts her, she must rely on the kindness of her neighbours who have become her adopted family. This story follows in the tradition of other recent novels which highlight neglectful parents, including Eric Walters’ The King of Jam Sandwiches, Deborah Ellis’ The Greats, and Valerie Sherrard’s Birdspell.
Leslie Gentile has created a touching and vibrant novel. Her characters are well-crafted and realistically portrayed. Elvis comes into Truly’s life at a time of crisis, and, though he does not turn out to be the real Elvis, his caring attitude helps her though a very dark time. This novel deals with many topics, including child welfare, poverty, loneliness, stereotypes, family relationships, bullying, Indigenous culture, and kindness.
Gentile’s Elvis, Me, and the Lemonade Stand Summer leaves readers with a memorable message about the power of empathy and kindness to change lives. Elvis explains to readers that, “You gotta just set one foot in front of the other, keep goin’ and look for the good in life. Don’t let people tell you how to live or control how you feel. No matter where you come from it doesn’t matter, because you can always choose where you’re goin’.” (p. 194)
Myra Junyk, who lives in Toronto, Ontario, is a literacy advocate and author.