Ordinary Miracles is no ordinary novel. It is a collection of thirteen short stories bound by a common thread that spans ninety years. Diana Aspin has spun a golden web of teenage experience that includes first love, family breakdown and death, to name but a few. The first story, "The Home Boy," introduces us to Arthur Pinner, a London waif handed over to an orphanage by his poverty-stricken mother. Home Children, as they were called, were children whose parents could no longer look after them and so were shipped off to Canadian farm families with the noble purpose of building Britainís empire. Arthur is promptly shipped off to ďa better lifeĒ in Canada. The slave-like treatment and hardship some of the children experienced provides the sinister edge to Arthurís story. Unwilling to live with a brutal farmer, Arthur runs away during a snowstorm and his adventure begins. He meets a mysterious young girl whose kind words give him the motivation to seek out a better life, one of his own making. Arthur begins his life anew in Sky Falls, a small rural town.
Aspin spins the miracle of Arthurís rescue into twelve more short stories, each containing sweet, fragile characters whose lives teeter from the magical to the mundane. The teenaged characters, all friends attending the same high school, share their innermost thoughts and dreams in compelling narratives. Many of the stories reminded me of what it was like to be a teenager. There are no trivial details -- every moment of every day has the potential to be earth shattering. Each day contains overwhelming obstacles; my life would have been ruined if the cute boy two desks over did not look at me, or if my mother embarrassed me with the simple act of yoo-hooing to me in public.
An underlying theme of lost-and-found permeates most of the stories. Several stories explore grief and mourning without being maudlin or sugary sweet. The promise of youth, the brevity of life and the depths of both love and sorrow gently bind the stories together. An example of how expertly Aspin explores lifeís most intimate issues is "The Art of Embalming," the story of Clive Pinnerís painfully sweet journey of self-discovery. Clive has fallen in love with his classmate, Toby, an openly gay student, and is torn between embracing his true self or the safety of conformity. The pressure of high school students to conform in order to gain acceptance among their peers is explored through tense situations and sharp dialogue.
Aspin has captured the teenaged voice so perfectly that, for a brief time, I felt as though I were a young resident of Sky Falls. The stories are emotionally charged and uplifting. The underlying theme in all of Aspinís stories is that magic is made real through love, and that all we have to do is believe in order to experience it. The characters are well-developed and exhibit the same range of teenage emotions we all remember. I give this collection of teen stories three stars.