Introduction for Rebecca Godfrey

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The highlight of the presentation ceremony is the introduction of the authors by distinguished individuals.

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Terry Waterhouse, from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University College of the Fraser Valley and Director of the Institute for Safe Schools of BC introduced Rebecca Godfrey's book Under the Bridge.

Thank you Mr. Chairman for allowing me the great honour of introducing Rebecca Godfrey and her book Under the Bridge at today's event.

On November 14, 1997 Reena Virk was murdered in suburban Victoria. For a week a high school was abuzz with rumours about what happened. Her parents were frantic. Mostly, however, there was silence. Finally one brave young woman broke the silence and the police recovered the body and several criminal charges followed. The case was highly publicized and to this day it remains a vivid reminder to the dark possibility that resides in all of us, even in our children. However, even after thousand of media stories and four criminal trials, for many of us there still seemed so much we didn't know about this case. Who were these people? How could such a thing happen? In Under the Bridge, Rebecca Godfrey goes a long way to answering these questions for us.

Rebecca grew up in Victoria so she knows the area where this murder took place. After finishing high school she attended the University of Toronto and completed her Masters degree at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. She has resided there ever since, yet she has never forgotten BC as her first two books are both set in BC, one fiction, one non fiction. Both are beautiful explorations of the lives of young people seeking to make their way against a back drop of challenges and temptations.

After having a chance to talk with Rebecca last week it doesn't surprise me that Rebecca was the one to fill in this story with depth and insight. Rebecca has a natural curiosity about people and their stories. I could tell that what drew her to this story is not the gruesome nature of this murder but a fascination with people, their circumstances and their motives. Rebecca gained access to an unprecedented number of sources and to information normally not shared. She went to every single trial, fascinated by the drama that unfolds in such high profile murder trials. She interviewed police, lawyers, suspects, parents and teachers. She came away with hundreds of hours of transcripts and a need to write a story that would reveal the complexities behind the sensationalist headlines that tell only a small part of the story. Amazingly, at the same time she was writing her first book which received rave reviews.

While Rebecca has investigative and interview skills that any great journalist would envy, she has two other qualities that come together to make this a great book. Firstly, she understands youth and youth culture. While most of us seem to leave both teen angst and our understanding of adolescence behind us as we leave the teen years, a few of us are able to maintain both insight and empathy. Luckily for the reader Rebecca has this gift and it allows her to penetrate the walls that too often separate us from our youth.

Now I am not a critic and I am much more used to analyzing undergraduate papers than great books but I would like to share with you a few of my thoughts on Rebecca's other gift, an amazing ability to tell a great story. As a reader the lyrical quality to her writing allowed me to be drawn into the story. Her ability to weave great prose with the facts of the story is compelling. In building up to the murder Rebecca takes us inside an art class at the local high school with the following foreboding scene:

    Megan drew another scene from nature, this time a sparse and elegant tree, with thin branches rendered in a delicate line. Yet out of place were the dark birds she added almost as an afterthought. One dark bird was nestled in the branches, slightly camouflaged, by the arch of the bough. Another emerged from behind the trunk - neither raven nor crow, but a black predatory bird rising under the pale tree toward the white moon. This was the end of October at Shoreline, and Megan could not have known that soon, under the tree by the Gorge, dark figures would commit an act of savagery. On this day, the "evil of others" was just a word, and death and grief were but minor motifs in their art and poetry.
One of the reviews of Under the Bridge, drew a comparison to Capote's masterpiece In Cold Blood, the story of the horrific murder of a family in rural Kansas in 1959. In that story, Capote, mixing fact with a finally tuned and even poetic style took his readers inside the story to understand a little better not only the incident but also the murderers. His intense curiosity and stunning intellect is captivating and alluring. Rebecca follows in this tradition, I have no idea if she is a fan of Capote but I see in her writing many similarities to Capote at his best - the curiosity, the ability to go behind the faĦade of peoples lives, to listen to people the rest of us conveniently label as monsters so we can avoid and compartmentalize them. Great writers do this, Rebecca does this. I sense that Rebecca refuses to define people by simply a heinous act they may have committed. Through Rebecca we are able to see the possibility of a vulnerable humanity inside a young man guilty of murder. She sees an abandoned, lonely young man looking in vain for a saviour, unable to find someone able to remove him from the collision course he was on. At the same time she provides a vivid portrait of a lonely young victim seeking to belong in a place that cruelly excluded her. Unlike much contemporary journalism she refuses to believe we must demonize the accused to do justice to the victim. She refuses to do this and we get a more complete understanding as a result.

Under the Bridge makes an important contribution to our understanding of youth violence and youth culture. In a society too quick to villainize and discard we need books like this. With 24 hour cable news channels providing the narrative of our lives in 20 second sound bites we have too few opportunities to try to understand what goes on around us. And we have too few people wanting to tell us the story.

Thank you Rebecca for a wonderful book.
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