Letters for Elly, by Stephen Davidson
Review by Mike Lyon, Lyon Families Association president
Where can you find an intriguing blend of a supernatural mystery, the internet, history, a broken leg, and family research all packaged up in a single, extremely readable and enjoyable book? The answer is easy. It’s all in a new book from our own Lyon family author, Stephen Davidson, called Letters for Elly.
I have already reviewed Mr. Davidson’s earlier book, The Burdens of
Loyalty, which chronicled the lives of loyalists John and Heppy Lyon
during and after the American Revolutionary War. Hopefully many of you
have now had the opportunity to purchase it.
His latest work, Letters for Elly, is geared primarily for young adult readers, however older readers will find it enjoyable and informative, also. Davidson has taken an interesting slant to his history-telling as he interweaves letters, present and past, to deliver images of life as a loyalist exile from a teenager’s perspective. Mysterious “diary-like” messages from the long-dead children of John and Heppy (then teenagers) begin to appear on Elly’s laptop computer as she visits the local cemetery. Through these messages, Elly gains new understanding of her forebears and an appreciation for the importance of capturing the family story.
If there was any detraction to the book for me, it was that the Lyon children occasionally document New Brunswick life in language that seems beyond their pre-teen and teen years and touch on subjects which likely would not have been of such intense interest to a teenager living in the late 1700s-early 1800s. Then again, life was turbulent and those days and politics hit a lot closer to home than it seems to now, so who am I to say?
Regardless, Letters for Elly is a smart, very enjoyable book. Those of you familiar with Davidson’s Burdens of Loyalty will find some recognizable stories here — now seen through new, younger, eyes. Younger readers will find the day to day life anecdotes from 230 years ago as fresh today as they were then. Just in time for Christmas, Letters will be appreciated by the future genealogists in your family. Letters for Elly can be purchased directly from Kingston Peninsula Heritage Inc.
Review by Paul J. Bunnell, UE
This is another great work by Stephen Davidson in 2007. His other excellent book is The Burdens of Loyalty that I also had the pleasure of reviewing earlier this month. Though Letters For Elly is a young adult novel, it goes hand in hand with the above title because the historical data and characters all come from the same area in Connecticut and who later settled in New Brunswick.
What I enjoyed most about Letters For Elly was that it takes place over the Internet, something that all modern-day young adults can relate to. Mr. Davidson knows how to capture the attention of our younger generation by creating a conversation between a semi-unhappy young girl who must devote her summer vacation in the back country of New Brunswick with an aunt and uncle who are genealogy addicts.
First off, I have to admit that Mr. Davidson has also captured my attention because of the close proximity of our Loyalist ancestors on the Long Reach Peninsula, and he has inspired me to look once again at one of my older works (1993) not published yet, Holy Smokes! I’ve Got A Loyalist In My Locker. Like my young adult novel, Mr. Davidson takes the reader into the haunted Loyalist past where spirits talk to the living. I think Elly is so original with her adventure starting by first leaving Sierra Leone in 1991 during a civil war there. Her parents are humanitarians working for UNICEF and caught there. For safety, they send Elly Kent to her relative’s cottage in New Brunswick where she is dragged through old graveyards helping her aunt record ancestors on her computer.
Stephen paints a perfect picture of the peaceful Canadian countryside, and by using real life characters from the Loyalist and colonial period, the history of all the areas involved become very clear to the knowledgeable historian. Elly receives a sudden email message from the beyond while recording stones in the family cemetery. It is dated 1776 and is sent by Abigail Lyon who lived in Connecticut at that time. The diary of this young colonial girl opens up with all the happenings of the day and the worries of the coming tomorrow. Can’t believing it all, Elly sends an email to her girlfriend, Kate with the 1776 email attached. Her aunt Clara and uncle Bruce also do not believe what has happened and try to reason it out into another direction, but still cannot come up with any sound explanation.
What I liked about this story was the interaction between the living and the dead, and using the email system to do that. Many more attachments come, dating from 1779, 1780, 1781, 1783, 1785, and 1800, running all through the life cycle of these Loyalists. At first I was a little worried that this book would be only of interest to the young female adults, but the story brings in the young revolutionary boys who get the terrible exposure of war. They begin to communicate too. That’s what makes this story an excellent book for schools. Stephen Davidson knows the importance to keeping our history alive for each generation to learn about the past. Today, that part of our education is threatened. New Brunswick is rich in heritage of our Native North American, Acadian French, The Loyalists, and later, the Irish and many other groups that followed to find a new way of life. That precious history should always be shared with our young.
Letter For Elly is a very well written book and I congratulate Stephen on his publication successes for 2007, and hope that many read this book and be inspired like I am, as I intend to get back into my project to complete Holy Smokes. Elly’s narrative travels on the Net taking us through the violence of Sierra Leone, and the tranquil life in New Brunswick, and into the spiritual tunnel of time in Connecticut, New York, and colonial New Brunswick forces the reader to journey with these long and forgotten pioneers of our past. The ending email from Elly to her friend Kate says it all when it comes for a young person to see how proud she or he should be with their past ancestors who paved our way. She closes in says:
“Let’s hope the troubles in Sierra Leone will come to an end soon. I miss you and everyone from school SO much. Until we see each other in Freetown again, I’ll always be Your fellow refugee and Friend-for-ever, – Elly Kent, U.E.”
Order this book today, and get your school to carry it in their classes, and see your own Loyalist child start using the distinguished initials U.E. after their surname as a proud Loyalist descendants.
Author: Stephen Davidson
Title: Letters for Elly
Publisher: Kingston Peninsula Heritage Inc. (Kingston NB, 2007)