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Jerome Bourgault
The Perpetual Now
Ferguston, Ontario, is an angry little town full of dark secrets, a place where keeping your head down is never a bad idea. That’s fine with Justin Lambert, an introverted, biracial 12-year-old who generally prefers books to people anyway. Against all odds, Justin has found a new friend. Her name is Billie. She’s sweet, precocious, and a bit feisty. She also isn’t human. David Raymond, on the other hand, is all too human. A brutal, volatile thug and celebrated public nuisance, he was the only person of interest ever named in the suspicious disappearance of Justin’s mother 10 years ago. Although he was never convicted, the lingering stink of suspicion has followed him around for a decade, and he blames the Lamberts. Now Justin and his dad have stumbled upon evidence that could get the case reopened. When Raymond gets wind of this, his anger is reignited, and he is very good at making bad things happen. Meanwhile, Justin is learning that Billie has an agenda of her own, and it’s on a scale that defies comprehension. If Justin’s life is threatened— increasingly likely these days—he can’t be sure if Billie will intervene on his behalf, or look at him as just one of an infinite number of variables in some unimaginable cosmological equation. One way or another, Justin is about to find out.
A little girl who’s more than she seems is the heart of this surprising novel of grief, adolescence, and mysteries both supernatural and practical, all set in a marvelously evoked small Ontario town. Justin Lambert’s mother went missing in 1996, when he was two. A decade later, long after the authorities have given up on the case, Justin makes an unexpected new friend in tiny Ferguston: a little girl named Billie who seems much smarter than her age, doesn’t go to school, and in conversation speaks to Justin like “anthropologist would interview an elder from some remote culture.” She asks fascinating questions like “Are these the only colours you have?” and, when adults take too much interest in her, somehow manages to vanish. Meanwhile, the residents of Ferguston report strange lights in the sky and strange fish in Lake LeClair, and local ne’er-do-well David Raymond, a suspect in Justin’s mother’s disappearance, is cruising Justin’s neighborhood in his great neon green truck, apparently on the hunt.

Especially in the opening and closing chapters, Bourgault, making his debut, deftly balances the novel’s mix of coming-of-age literary fiction with its exciting supernatural and suspense elements. Scenes with Billie are both charming and unsettling, as Justin at first refuses to ask hard questions about this strange little girl who knows so much about him. The answers to just who and what she is, when they come, are inspired, not settling into any genre convention. She’s an original, like the book itself.

The novel’s middle passages can feel protracted, such as chapters covering the aftermath of a strange accident or a trip to the American Southwest. The Perpetual Now is long, and at times feels like it, though its central mystery and relationships are compelling, and the prose is touched with unfussy observational poetry. “Ferguston sometimes felt like a war-torn city where all the buildings were left standing,” Bourgault writes, capturing a rich sense of place in a line.

Takeaway: A smart, heartfelt novel blending speculative and coming-of-age fiction.

Comparable Titles: Graham Joyce’s The Tooth Fairy, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A