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A Tiny Upward Shove - a touch of magic in a gritty story

A Tiny Upward Shove by Melissa Chadburn

Genre: General Fiction

Publish Date: April 12, 2022, 352 pages

First, thanks to @NetGalley and publisher Farrar, Straus, and Giroux for the chance to read this ARC prior to publication. The opinions below are my own.

Man, I don't know how the author dealt with the research into this disturbing topic, but as a debut novel, it is well done and so powerful. It's told to shed light on the disappearance of untold, uncounted indigenous women and is loosely based on the true story of Canadian serial killer Willie Pichton.

This is definitely a story that needs to be told, BUT, it should come with some strong trigger warnings. Rape, abuse, drug use, child neglect, are all present and some in pretty vivid detail. This book is grim. Unrelentingly sad and just grim. BUT, the little sparkles of light here and there keep it from being too depressing.


This is the dark coming-of-age story of Marina, a girl being raised by an unprepared and unhappy single mother; of Alex, an unwanted baby who was severely abused as a toddler/child, and Willie, a boy who is abused and teased and has some diminished capacity. As these broken children grow to teens and young adulthood, the things they're forced to do to survive are heartbreaking and eventually their worlds collide in a tragic way.

Ending up in a foster care group home, Marina meets Alex and they become the best of friends - this friendship is such a bright spot in such a bleak place, an important event for both of them that gives them a grain of hope. I like the way this was presented - it felt real.

This is a story of young people forced to find some kind of strength within themselves to survive a world that doesn’t seem to want them and certainly doesn't help them. Chadburn doesn’t show the foster system in a good light though I personally know some very caring and admirable foster parents. This definitely focuses on the ugliness inherent in the system.


I did appreciate the tool of using the Filipino folklore of an avenging aswang who has been attached to Marina's family for generations, sort of an avenging angel. That technique allowed the aswang to view Marina's life as if looking at her life through her memory, so it put a step of removal between her and the reader (but it still was a harsh life). I could hardly stand to read about one more abuse.

While I am aware that this kind of harsh life is suffered by many, this gritty story really brought all the heartache and sadness and depression to the top. I can't say it was an enjoyable read, but it was illuminating.

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