Five Reasons You Should be Reading Deer Life by Ron Sexsmith

Welcome to the final stop on the Dundurn Press blog tour for Ron Sexsmith’s new book, Deer Life! When I was asked if I might be interested in taking part in this tour I knew I had only one response: How could I not want to be part of this delightful gem of a book? This is a deceptively short read that is full of mischief, magic, heroes, villains and the kind of lyricism you would expect to find from Sexsmith’s writing. In fact, when I mentioned that to the fine people at Dundurn, they suggested that I make a list.

I’m pleased to present my top five reasons (in no particular order) why you should be reading Deer Life this fall.

It contains all the best elements of a captivating fairy tale. Siblings and witches, mysterious happenings, boys being turned into deer, good versus evil, a hat of (inadvertent) death – all the whimsical aspects of fables and fairy tales that you would expect to find in classics such as Hans Christian Anderson are present in this tale. Much like Anderson (an admitted influence), there is a darker edge to this tale at times, although the author is careful to ensure that there is, after all, a happily ever after in the end.

The quirky characters are delightful. Much like the characters in a Roald Dahl novel (another noted influence), the characters in Deer Life have fun and unusual names that give broad winks towards their character (why bonjour, Jacques Tourtière, the vegetarian hunter). I enjoyed the distinguishing traits, such as Eleanor and her eyes with the purplish tint that identifies her as something “other”. Even as a deer, Deryn retains the innate innocence and positive outlook he had as a young man, staying true to his loyal and loving mother while building new relationships with Big Eyes and Claira. Additionally, random strangers are slowly drawn together, and find that they are connected in mysterious ways. By the end of the story, these characters are familiar and you find yourself cheering for their happy endings (or their untimely demise).

There is a lyricism to the story that echoes the author’s songwriting. Fans of Ron Sexsmith the singer/songwriter will not be disappointed in this story. The characters demonstrate a mix of vulnerability and bravery in turn, with a determination to see through the dark times towards the light of the future, with beautiful imagery throughout. I’ll admit to attempting to pair some of Ron’s music to the book as I was reading it, and, in fact, the author has stated that he’s working on songs for a musical version!

The story is a lovely family read. With characters of good heart and a deliciously evil villain or two to boo, this fairy tale is one that a family could read together without a problem. Sly asides add humour when necessary (“Poison apple?” she thought… “No, that’s been done.” muses the witch at one point), and while the story goes as dark as some of Grimm’s and Anderson’s tales, there is a sense of light that brings you back from the edge. While not every couple may tie the knot at the end (no spoiler here – it’s a fairy tale after all), it’s simply due to a practical note about their age – something I rather appreciated as a welcomed change from 16-year-old Disney brides! I suspect that younger middle grade readers would find this a great family read-aloud.

~ While there is a happily ever after, the door is left open for more. The witch might get her comeuppance, and there are happily ever afters to be had, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t  still stories that could be told for the Hinterlands and Hedlights. Mysterious ravens, returning sisters and a certain hunter are all loose threads that could be tugged upon to unravel new tales and quests in the future, and we can only wonder and hope that they will be told in some form.

For such a quick read, there are many reasons to pick up this first-time novel. This is one that can be easily shared, and I look forward to future stories from Sexsmith.

A wicked fairy tale of witchcraft, bullying, revenge, and a mysterious bowler hat. Includes Ron’s own whimsical illustrations.

Deryn Hedlight was not having a very good day and it was about to get much worse. He’d read stories of witches as a boy, but never believed for a second they were true. That is, until an unfortunate hunting accident turns his world upside down. What seemed like an honest mistake leads to an altogether unexpected transformation. But poor Deryn wasn’t the only wronged character tied up in these gloomy circumstances and sinister forces.

Deer Life tells the story of a kind-hearted boy from Einthoven and his mother’s undying love. Mostly though, it’s all about patience, friendship, and heroism where you least expect it.

Deer Life is available from Dundurn Press as of October 10th. An advanced reader’s copy was provided by the publisher for this blog tour. You may purchase your own copy from your favourite independent, online or storefront bookseller. ISBN: 9781459738775, 136 pages.