Love and Courage in Troubled Times
Love and Courage in Troubled Times
Lesley to Samnang and Megan: I have SO much to tell you but I’ll have to keep it short because I start work early tomorrow and I’m exhausted after our hike to Minerve today. The cute guy, John, is giving me a ride to work with his three female roommates. One of them doesn’t seem to like me. Her name is Janet and she makes me uncomfortable.
After seeing the igloo on our hike, I had more weird visions. Now I’m beginning to think that I may be dreaming about a real girl, a Cathar girl who hid outside Minerve when the Crusaders broke down the walls of her village. She must have watched events unfold. I wonder what happened to her, if she survived the massacre. Remember when we helped the younger kids in school build miniature catapults? I had no idea I would end up in a place where catapults were used for real. I’m terrified I will have more nightmares. I don’t know why this is happening to me. Maybe I did get a concussion after all.
After I send the text, I turn my phone off. My head hurts. I need to sleep so I’ll be able to wake up on time in the morning. As I drift off, I hear shouting.
The girl watches in horror as her people are marched from the Pont Grand to the riverbed. They are quiet, stoic. The crusaders tie them to the stakes in pairs, then light the straw piled at their feet. The smoke thickens, flames leap higher. She can hear the screams from her hilltop overlooking the village. She turns away, weeping, unable to look any longer.
Charlotte Cameron’s Love and Courage in Troubled Times is a fictional account of 15-year-old Lesley's stay in Aigne, France, with her family while her father researches the history of the Cathars. The family leaves their home in Kitsilano, British Columbia, to spend the better part of a year in Aigne, with Lesley’s mother finding material for her magazine editor work, Lesley completing school online, and her twin eight-year-old brothers, Josh and Trevor, attending school in person. Lesley learns from her father and the local people of the plight of the Cathars in the 13th century, persecuted by France and the Catholic church, and burned alive by Simon de Montfort. Lesley has visions and dreams of a Cathar girl fleeing the attackers and is “sensitive” to others pain and fear, much like Clara, the daughter of the Castanys family who has rented their gîte to Lesley’s parents.
Lesley passes her summer working, picking grapes in Aigne with a group of other teenagers who have traveled to the area from other parts of Europe. She sends messages to her girlfriends in British Columbia about the cute 19-year-old Brit, John, on whom she has a crush and to whom she reveals her visions of the past. Lesley teaches her friends back home about the persecution of the Cathars and relates it to The Sound of Music and Diary of Anne Frank, plays she was involved in at her school. Initially reluctant to relocate to France and miss out on high school with her friends, Lesley adjusts (very) quickly and becomes a part of the local community.
The story concludes with an odd car chase through France and Spain, involving John and Lesley tracking a pair of treasure hunting twins who have kidnapped Clara Catanys. While the police are unsuccessful in catching the pair, John and Lesley are able to catch up to the twins, slash their tires, and save Clara. John returns to the United Kingdom, and Lesley returns to work on the grapevines in Aigne until Lesley’s family must suddenly cut their trip to France short early as they hear of the coronavirus pandemic that is spreading across Europe. The book ends with Lesley meeting John one last time at the airport in the United Kingdom on her trip home where he tells her, “We will meet again. I promise. Hold onto your dreams.”
Love and Courage in Troubled Times is an interesting and distinctive story that successfully brings the plight of the Cathars to life for a young audience. The “visions” Lesley sees of a Cathar girl on the run in the 13th century are interspersed throughout the novel, historically accurate, and the transitions are smooth. Scenes set in Paris and rural France come to life with descriptions of local landscapes, tourist sites, food, and culture. Where Cameron falls short is in the dialogue of the teenagers which comes across as stiff and overly mature. Text messages between the teens are also extremely lengthy and inauthentic. The final chapters felt rushed and disjointed from the rest of the story, including the odd kidnapping and car chase to Barcelona by a teen who was rarely left alone by her overly strict parents, and the abrupt appearance of the pandemic which ended the book. These inconsistencies, however, are not reason to dismiss an otherwise unique and engaging story.
Cate Carlyle is a librarian, author, and former elementary teacher currently residing in Halifax, Nova Scotia.