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3 Works 13 Members 4 Reviews

Works by Wayne Ng

Letters from Johnny (2021) 5 copies
The Family Code (2023) 3 copies

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For her entire life, Hannah Belenko has been trying to escape the toxic legacy of her childhood. Raised in suburban Ontario by a controlling brute of a father who ruled the household with an iron fist, a mother who learned the hard way that survival depends on keeping her mouth shut, and an older brother who’s following in his father’s footsteps, Hannah has been indoctrinated into a “family code” of silence. When we meet Hannah in 2018, she’s 20-something, living in Ontario with her 6-year-old son Axel, and facing questions from authorities about her lifestyle. Hannah’s troubles are not new. She already lost her daughter Faye to the foster system and her parenting is being monitored by Ontario’s child advocacy service. After a violent confrontation with her abusive boyfriend, she flees to Halifax, where she hopes to re-connect with Bashir, Axel and Faye’s biological father, and squeeze him for the child-support he owes her. Hannah’s goal has always been a better life for her children, but everything she does backfires. There’s never enough money and she can only find relief from the constant struggle to get by with booze and drugs. In the novel’s initial chapters, the reader can see that it is Hannah’s angry, selfish, and impulsive behaviour that presents the most serious impediment to achieving the better life she’s seeking. Abrasive and combative, perpetually in survival mode, she blames others for her problems. She is distrustful of authority and suspicious of anyone who offers a helping hand. The Family Code, Wayne Ng’s gripping second novel, chronicles a pivotal year and a half in Hannah’s life as she struggles to cast off the lingering effects of a traumatic childhood and for the first time find the courage to confront her demons. Hannah and Axel narrate in alternating chapters, often providing conflicting accounts of the same events. Hannah Belenko is not an easy character to like. She is quick to anger and often takes her frustrations out on her son. She is dishonest with herself and others and can’t resist the temptation of a quick buck. But as the harrowing story of her childhood is gradually revealed, we begin to understand how she became the way she is. After a series of missteps, ill-fated detours and poor choices, she finally realizes that she won’t save herself and Axel until she stops running from the past that haunts her, and by the end of the book she’s more than won our sympathy. Wayne Ng’s novel is not an easy read, filled as it is with graphic depictions of violence, cruelty, and the casual mayhem of physical and psychological abuse. But it is here, in its unvarnished honesty, where its power resides.… (more)
 
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icolford | 1 other review | Apr 19, 2024 |
Hannah is a single-mother without a career, raised in an abusive household. This is not a dystopian story - she lives in the world that we know - but for her every day is about survival. Trust nobody, suspect every kindness, count only on yourself. Learn what you can take advantage of, how best to do it, and how to dodge the consequences when you're caught. Never count on hope. Never give in to fear. Never be a sucker.

Where is the line between Hannah as a victim of circumstance versus a victim of her own decisions? The scale lands heavily on the former, but the struggle to make the right decisions is real. She lives in a mental fog, constantly struggling to convince herself and her son that she knows what she's doing and has a plan, but privately knows she is making it up as she goes along. What choice does she have? Nobody's advice sounds easy or answers her emotional needs. The only people Hannah does venture to trust are those who wear their faults where she can see them. There is no "single mom's aid society", only Ontario's Children's Aid Society that makes her feel like she is constantly at war and forced into playing the villain's role.

Fairy tale endings don't happen in reality, but most problems have solutions. Hannah's challenge is whether to keep trying to conquer or surrender, while having no clear view of the consequences. Wayne Ng offers no escapism here, only real insights into real problems, faced by someone who looks a lot like the angry stranger you might see at the mall or downtown, the one who is too brisk with her kid and short-tempered with everybody else. I've walked three hundred pages in her shoes and now I see her in a different light.
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Cecrow | 1 other review | Jul 16, 2023 |
After his historical fiction in "Finding the Way", I was intrigued to see Wayne Ng try his hand at a different genre and style. Writing an epistolary novel is tough for conveying plot, character and setting, but the author does an excellent job of all three. In "Letters from Johnny" he takes us to 1970s Toronto and into the mind of 11-year-old Johnny, whose teacher tasks him with writing to a pen pal. The story that emerges is more than his teacher bargained for. At the same time it's a cathartic experience for the young boy, as he shares a unique perspective on his neighbourhood and family as well as national news headlines about the FLQ. It's not the historical Chinese setting I enjoyed from this author before, but something more directly relevant to our times: shades of racism, "child warfare" (perfect malapropism from an 11-year-old), acts of terrorism and violence in our own backyard, and the importance of bridging differences to connect with one another over what all of us have in common, our need for family and belonging.… (more)
 
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Cecrow | Jun 23, 2021 |
Lao Tzu is one of China's most famous philosophers, and while he left us his writings about Taoism there is little known about the man himself who lived in the 6th century BC during the Zhou Dynasty. That leaves plenty of room for artistic license to tell his origin story and what led up to his disillusioned ride out of China on the back of a water buffalo. For a novel told almost entirely from Lao Tzu's perspective, it avoids the greatest pitfall by never taking a didactic turn for all the wisdom being necessarily shared to understand Lao's motives and character. Lao Tzu (and later Confucius) convincingly speaks at times like the master philosopher he was. That's difficult enough to capture, but the more impressive authorial feat here is that, for all of his deep thoughts and devotion to unearthing a correct philosophy for life on earth, Lao is also shown to be a flawed human being who proves just as susceptible to worldly fears, motives and errors as anyone else.

This is Lao Tzu's story and so he is naturally its hero, humble though he is, which places Confucius as his opponent in a way that I wasn't expecting. Between the royal court intrigues, intellectual debates, and speculation about Chinese culture and lifestyle during this period at all levels of society, for such a relatively short novel (approximately 250 pages) it manages to pack a lot in without feeling rushed. There's a strong sense of place and time that I would have liked to see prolonged and expanded somehow, given the general lack of historical fiction using this setting. I would even have liked to know more about Taoism, rather than wishing for less. I don't foresee an obvious sequel, but I hope this author has more to share if he simultaneously keeps his stories this entertaining.
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2 vote
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Cecrow | Oct 2, 2018 |

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