Resource Links Review - 250 Hours

Reviewed by: Karyn Huenemann

"It wouldn't work. We could never be together"

..."Why? Cuz I'm from the reserve?"

"No. Because we want different things." (p. 108)

Convicted yet again for lighting fires, Jess Sinclair is sentenced to 250 hours of community service, binding him to a life and a place he longs to escape.

Sara Jean lives with her morbidly obese, diabetic grandmother, the only person she loves, the person who took her in when her mother abandoned her at birth. Her grandmother needs her; her boyfriend needs her; her life is laid out before her, binding her to a place she longs to escape.

When Sara Jean meets Jess, the "firebug" (p. 7) sent to clear out a lifetime of accumulated junk from her grandparents' garage, she responds with the attitudes common in her white, middle-class world: slight derision, prejudice, and distrust. Jess's attitude towards Sara Jean is no better, especially when he learns that she is dating rich-boy Rich Weins, "the worst kind of townie" (p. 13), bigoted and full of his own self-importance. We anticipate the obvious dynamic at play here, but Colleen Nelson's story is not about teen romance: it is about how misunderstanding and hatred manifest within families and communities, and about how looking a little bit deeper can begin to heal the scars that the years - the decades - have inflicted. 

As Sara Jean goes through her dead grandfather's boxes, and Jess works hauling the discarded items away, they slowly circle around one another: small insults, misspoken words, little pieces of truth slipping out into their tentative conversations. Both they and the reader recognize the curiosity they have for each other, and the unlikelihood of even friendship developing. In 250 Hours, as in her other books, Nelson pulls us along the path with her characters, feeling their doubts and watching them work through the fears and prejudices they have imbibed from the specfic ideologies in which they are raised. Despite Jess and Sara Jean's cultural and social differences, they find common ground. Jess is dealing with the familiar fallout from the residential school program, of which his father is a survivor and his uncle a fatal victim. Sara Jean is struggling to find a way to get to university despite the constraints of family. Both are traumatized by parental desertion. Knowing Jess gives Sara Jean the strength to face the truth about her family and to take for herself what she needs, not only to give of herself what others demand. Seeing Sara Jean struggling with her own demons helps Jess stand strong for what he believes is right for his community, and ultimately for himself. 

Thematic Links: Residential Schools; Métis; Community Service Work Program; Parental Desertion; Pyromania; Cross Cultural Understanding


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