Focus. Click. Wind.
Focus. Click. Wind.
At school, she props The Wretched of the Earth defiantly on her desk, waiting to be challenged. It connects her to the world outside of sleepy Toronto. It’s Veterans Day – Remembrance Day, the Canadians call it – and when they stand at 11:00 to remember the war dead, she holds The Wretched of the Earth against her heart.
At the level of individuals, violence is a cleansing force.
Talk doesn’t change anything. Talk is not action. Henry becoming a good little Canadian won’t do anything to stop the war and the murder of children.
No. The only question, ever, is which action to take.
To make a choice.
Revolutions never come about peacefully.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Billie Taylor is 17 and lives in New York City in 1968, a tumultuous time in American life and politics. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy have recently been assassinated. The Vietnam War is ongoing, and Billie’s boyfriend decides to enlist before he’s conscripted, hoping this will give him more options within the armed forces. In the midst of the chaos, Billie’s Mom decides they are moving to Toronto – the middle of nowhere in Billie’s opinion.
Billie is an aspiring photojournalist who feels most excited when capturing events with her camera and most at home when working in a darkroom. However, she begins to wonder if this photographic protest is enough to make a difference. Billie is determined and strong-minded, as well as creative, and so she searches out like-minded people at places like Toronto’s Rochdale College, people wanting to engage in political protests and willing to go to extreme measures to express their viewpoints. Billie learns more and more about the war and the impacts of chemicals like Agent Orange on both the military and civilian populations. Once she finds out that it is manufactured in a town near Toronto, Billie becomes deeply involved in plans to halt the transport of Agent Orange into the United States.
Billie’s mother is the other main character in the novel, and once she moves to Toronto she becomes involved with an underground railway of sorts: TADP, the Toronto Anti-Draft Program. She is happy to open the family home to a variety of draft dodgers and deserters until they are able to move on and find their place in Canadian society. The parallel between mother and daughter is interesting. Both want to fight what they see as an unjustified war, but they choose entirely different methods of doing so.
Billie’s photojournalism is symbolic, a pacifist way of fighting which captures people and events but lets her audience draw their own conclusions from her work. And this is a crucial question posed in the novel. Can you fight from the sidelines like Billie the journalist and her TADP mother? Or is it better to take more drastic action in order to make changes? Billie faces the hard question of whether or not violence can ever be justified. And how can you argue for using violence when your target is, itself, a violent war?
Billie is learning and growing in Focus. Click. Wind. and is not always a likeable character. She can be hot-headed, stubborn and confrontational. Yet readers find they must respect her diligence, her heartfelt devotion to an important cause and her desire to question the roles set out for her by her mom, her friends and, indeed, her government. Her photos and her actions both are ways for her to discover and present the truth as she sees it.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, Ontario.