Over Our Heads is a novel that weaves together the histories of two very different half-sisters who return home to deal with the aftermath of their grandmother's death. Emma, a punk band singer and poet turned pet psychic, and Rachel, an actuary with an interest in astronomy, both carry the remnants of childhoods overshadowed by issues of bullying, abandonment, alienation and fear. In the raw terrain of profound loss, the two sisters struggle through the stages of grief – each in their own way. The past merges with the present, as through the process of emptying the family home, each woman is taken back to their childhoods in 1970s Toronto and Vancouver, where they navigated a social climate rife with racism, homophobia and marginalization of the mentally ill and cognitively disabled. Over Our Heads is a story about kindness, compassion – and the lack of it, on both a societal and individual level. It’s about growing up wounded, and the generational legacy of suffering such wounds can create. It unearths the painful family dynamics that can arise from our perception of memory, and how these dynamics colour both who we are, and who we believe others to be. It’s a story of acceptance, forgiveness, redemption, and the beauty that can be found in the imperfection inherent in being human.
Andrea Thompson is one of the most well known poets in the Canadian spoken word scene and has performed her poetry at venues across North America and overseas for the past twenty years. Thompson’s debut poetry collection, Eating the Seed (2000), has been featured on the reading list at the University of Toronto, and at the Ontario College of Art and Design, and her spoken word cd One, was nominated for a Canadian Urban Music Award in 2005. One of the pioneers of the slam poetry scene in Canada, Thompson was awarded the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word’s Poet of Honour: For Outstanding Achievement in the Art of Spoken Word in 2009. Thompson is the co-editor of the anthology Other Tongues: Mixed Race Women Speak Out (Inanna, 2010), and is a recent graduate of the University of Guelph’s MFA Creative Writing program. She currently teaches Spoken Word: Poetry and Performance through the Ontario College of Art and Design’s Continuing Studies Department. Over Our Heads is her first novel. Andrea lives in Toronto.
“I’ve finally found my calling,” Emma announced, as Rachel divided up the clove of roasted garlic that came with their salad. “Now, you’re going to think it’s stupid, but I just want to tell you that you’re not going to have to worry about me any more. You know, with money,” she said. “Really Rachel, this is it. It’s not quite enough now to cover my rent, but my clientele is growing by the day. I know, I mean maybe this isn’t really what we should be talking about now. But in a way, you know, it sort of makes sense. Like it’s some sort of Lazarus moment. The whole phoenix from the flames thing, you know?” Emma pushed her clove across her plate, through a field of mixed greens. “I feel it tonight,” she said, in a tone that reminded Rachel of old black- and-white movies. “Maybe it’s shock or the wine talking, but I feel like this day, with Grandma going to spirit, because that’s all it is really, just a transformation of forms from solid to spirit. Well, now — it’s sort of like she’s left us with a gift. A chance to get on the right path, you know what I mean?”
Rachel nodded, making the appropriate sounds to indicate listening and comprehension. She knew better than to think Emma’s drunk. Nope. Only half a glass consumed over the last hour. Nachos and salsa before the pizza came. Two slices. Salad. Nope, this was Emma sober, beaming her esoteric light from the far reaches of Emma-land.
“To tell you the truth, I’m surprised it took me so long to realize what I should be doing with my life."
Rachel stood on the porch, remembering that night. She searched in her purse side pocket for the key to her grandmother’s house, thinking that in hindsight, this last statement of Emma’s must have been a set-up — a way to set the stage for the announcement of some sort of normal vocation. That and the use of the word: clientele. Sneaky Emma. Naturally, it had been a relief, for that brief moment, to believe that at long last, Emma had stopped floating around the stratosphere of wishful thinking, and had settled back down to earth. But no — pow — sucker- punch.
“I’m going to be a pet psychic,” Emma said, with a glee that made Rachel wonder if the same person, who just moments earlier had been catatonic with loss, was expressing it.