Katherine Holubitsky (1955–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Surname is pronounced Hall-oo-bit-skee; born 1955, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Education: Attended Simon Fraser University, 1973–75; Grant MacEwan College, graduated (library and information technology), 1992.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Orca Book Publishers, Box 5626, Station B, Victoria, British Columbia V8R 6S4, Canada.
Edmonton Public School Board, Edmonton, Alberta, library technician, 1992–.
Young Alberta Book Society.
Pick of the Lists designation, American Booksellers Association, and Young Adult Book of the Year, Canadian Library Association (CLA), both 1999, and Best Books for Young Adults designation, American Library Association, Books for the Teen Age citation, New York Public Library, I.O.D.E. Violet Downey Award, Ruth Schwartz Children's Literature Award finalist, and Red Maple Award finalist, Ontario Library Association, all 2000, all for Alone at Ninety Foot; Arthur Ellis Award nomination, and CLA Young Adult Book of the Year nomination, both 2005, and Manitoba Young Readers' Choice Award nomination, 2006, all for The Hippie House.
Alone at Ninety Foot, Orca (Custer, WA), 1999.
Last Summer in Agatha, Orca (Custer, WA), 2001.
The Hippie House, Orca (Custer, WA), 2004.
The Mountains That Walked, Orca (Custer, WA), 2005.
When Katherine Holubitsky's first published novel won the Canadian Library Association's 1999 Young Adult Book Award, perhaps no one was more surprised than the author herself. The book, Alone at Ninety Foot, started out as a short story Holubitsky wrote in her free time while working in a city high-school library in western Canada. More awards rolled in the following year, encouraging the writer who has since penned several more well-received novels for teen readers, including Last Summer in Agatha, The Hippie House, and The Mountain That Walked.
Alone at Ninety Foot focuses on fourteen-year-old Pamela Collins, who is trying to cope while everything around her seems to be turn into tragedy. After her baby sister dies of Sudden Infant Death syndrome, Pam's grieving and guilt-stricken mother kills herself. Now her father is starting to date again, bringing more upheaval into the teen's life when all Pamela wants is to be looked upon as normal. Fortunately, good friends, a budding romantic interest, and a special place to go to find peace and sunshine give the teen the wherewithal to navigate the other problems every adolescent encounters. Praising the book as an "accomplished first novel," Maureen Garvie wrote in Quill and Quire that Holubitsky "has a Salinger-like ear for adolescent speech," and that her protagonist's "observations of teen dynamics are astute." Garvie predicted that Alone at Ninety Foot "will engage a wide readership," while in the Canadian Review of Materials Joan Marshall described the novel as "a funny, touching, compelling book that will appeal to middle school students who love to read about tragic lives."
A small town in Alberta, Canada is the setting for Last Summer in Agatha, which finds sixteen-year-old Rachel Bennett strongly attracted to older teen Michael during her summer stay with her aunt and uncle. While Michael returns her attentions, Rachel soon realizes that something about him is just not right. As Michael battles his emotional response to a favorite brother's death and the increasing aggression directed at him by some neighborhood teens, his behavior becomes more erratic, and soon Rachel realizes that Michael's problems are more than she can handle. In the Canadian Review of Materials, Joanne Peters dubbed Last Summer in Agatha "strong and powerfully written," with "unique" and "sharply drawn characters." While Quill and Quire critic Kenneth Oppel noted that the novel reminded him "how besotted teenagers are with the dramas of their lives," he praised Holubitsky's "vivid" writing and her ability to accurately portray her young characters. "Her dialogue has a refreshing humour in places," Oppel added, noting that the author "wisely intersperses her crisis scenes with ones of greater normalcy." In School Library Journal Jana R. Fine noted that the novel "cap-tures the beauty" of the Canadian Midwest and "intertwines a convincing look at … teens' lives into a quietly understated drama about overcoming grief."
The Hippie House also deals with the way young people are affected by tragedy, although in this case the tragedy—the murder of a teenage girl—changes the lives of several young people. Taking place in rural Canada during the 1970s, the novel focuses on fifteen-year-old Emma and Emma's older brother Eric, who gathers together with a group of friends and relatives to play rock music in a nearby shed dubbed the "hippie house." When their gathering place becomes the setting of an assault and murder, the lives of Emma, Eric, and their friends drastically change. For some, fear curtails their ability to trust the hippie musicians and groupies they formerly mingled with at a local town hangout, while for Emma's cousin Megan the knowledge that death could come at any time "fuelled her 'seize the day' hunger for experience," noted Sherie Posesorski in Quill and Quire. Although commenting on the relative length and slow pace of the novel, Posesorski concluded that Holubitsky's "emotional perceptiveness, her graceful, nuanced writing, her painfully true depictions of teen life … shine" in The Hippie House.
In her first work of historical fiction, The Mountain That Walked, Holubitsky combines information about the lives of immigrant "home boys" who were sent to Canada from Great Britain to provide help to farming families with a look back to life in a mining town at the turn of the twentieth century. The novel finds sixteen-year-old English-born Charlie Sutherland sent West to work on the Brooks farm in Alberta, British Columbia. When he discovers one of the owners murdered, Charlie flees, fearful that he will be a suspect. He travels west to a mining town at the foot of Turtle Mountain in the Canadian Rockies, where he finds a job, begins to feel part of a community, and ultimately witnesses a tragic landslide that devastates the small town. Noting that the novel is "fast-paced and full of adventure," Resource Links contributor Victoria Pennell added that The Mountain That Walked presents a fact-filled and accurate view of "the life of early settlers on the Canadian prairie," weaving a wealth of historic detail into a story that would be especially enjoyable to boys.
"I write about adolescent life because I really like young adults, Holubitsky once told SATA, and I have a lot of empathy for that age. I remember the extremes of emotion so well. Developing teens need to be reassured that what they are feeling is normal. As well as entertaining them, this is what I hope to accomplish in writing for teens. It was certainly the driving motive behind my first novel, Alone at Ninety Foot."
While working on her first novel, Holubitsky was influenced by the journals of nineteenth-century Canadian artist Emily Carr, a painter strongly influenced by her love of nature, as well as her love of Lynn Canyon, where Alone at Ninety Foot takes place. "There have been a lot of YA novels written dealing with saving the environment and that kind of thing," Holubitsky explained to Canadian Review of Materials interviewer David Jenkinson, "but I wanted to put a little bit more into it by showing the spiritual relationship you can have with the environment…. Growing up in a rural community, I was in the woods all the time as a kid…. Consequently, I think my writing's just an extension of that spiritual and emotional satisfaction of relating to and being close to nature."
"I can never complain of being lonely when I write," Holubitsky also explained to SATA: "in fact, the room is often quite crowded. My Clumber spaniel discovered long ago that it's the perfect opportunity to get his head scratched, one of my Siamese cats loves the warmth of the monitor, and the other one makes himself comfortable in my lap. I know I become very single-minded when I am writing. I think of the story and the characters constantly. Luckily, my family has learned to ignore me when I become that intense!
"There are so many writers of fiction who have influenced me, and they are a very diverse group. Common elements in the work of authors I return to, however, are strong characterization, terrific imagery, and wit. I think humor is a great equalizer, something every age understands.
"The one piece of advice I would give to aspiring writers is to read good literature, not just in the genre in which you are writing, but everything you can. You will soon learn to recognize bad writing when you pick it up and, hopefully, when you've typed it out. Then—persevere!"
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, March 15, 2000, review of Alone at Ninety Foot, p. 1340.
Kliatt, July, 2004, Claire Rosser, review of The Hippie House, p. 8.
Prairie Books Now, summer, 2000, Irene D'Souza, "Alone at Any Age."
Publishers Weekly, September 13, 1999, review of Alone at Ninety Foot, p. 85.
Quill and Quire, August, 1999, Maureen Garvie, review of Alone at Ninety Foot; May, 2001, Kenneth Oppel, review of Last Summer in Agatha, p. 33; July, 2004, Sherie Posesorski, review of The Hippie House.
Resource Links, October, 1999, review of Alone at Ninety Foot, p. 28; October, 2001, Margaret Mackey, review of Last Summer in Agatha, p. 38; April, 2005, Victoria Pennell, review of The Mountain That Walked, p. 12.
School Library Journal, December, 2001, Jana R. Fine, review of Last Summer in Agatha, p. 138.
Canadian Review of Materials Online, http://www.umanitoba.ca/cm/ (March 3, 2000), Joan Marshall, review of Alone at Ninety Foot; July 25, 2000) Dave Jenkinson, "Katherine Holubitsky"; October 5, 2001, Joanne Peters, review of Last Summer in Agatha.
Childrenslit.com, http://www.childrenslit.com/ (October 20, 2005), "Katherine Holubitsky."
Orca Book Publishers Web site, http://www.orcabook.com/ (October 20, 2005).
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