"Jane Powell’s Sky-Bound Misfit and her second book: Butterflies in the System are wonderful, compelling and soulful. At times, the stories break your heart and fill you with rage. But more importantly, they also inspire. The books are fiction but ring true in the harsh realities faced by children and youth ensnared by the so-called child care and youth protection systems." — Victor Malarek, author of Hey Malarek and the internationally acclaimed The Natashas.
"Butterflies in the System is a rollicking tale of unwanted and wayward kids in Quebec’s youth “protection” system, as only a true “system kid” can tell it. Although fiction, this novel adds a strong voice to the thousands of victims now seeking compensation in a class action for the abuse they suffered at the hands of the state."
— Gillian Cosgrove, winner of the Governor General’s Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism, 1976
Hello and welcome to my site!
I'm excited to announce that my most recent novel, Butterflies in the System, is now published! Butterflies in the System was inspired by my time spent in youth protection as a teen. Be sure to check out my blog posts on the interviews I conducted during my research - which included chats with retired CTV W5 investigative journalist Victor Malarek, award-winning reporter Gillian Cosgrove, and author Erika Tafel. Also, read an excerpt from the book and testimonials below.
Along with two novels, I have also published some short stories, articles and opinion pieces, and a nature guidebook for kids (I wear many hats). To read more about my work and what inspires me, keep scrolling and check out my highlights!
My adventure in the exciting world of writing fiction began when I was just a kid, living on a little island on Rivière des Prairies just outside Montreal. Although Sky-bound Misfit is my first published novel, my writing dreams were sparked in elementary school. As soon as I could read, I knew that I wanted to write. I savored every bit of the novels I read, not just for the story itself but also for the way it was told and the author's writing style. By the time I had reached grade eight, I was writing short stories and poems for my friends and classmates.
My teen years were filled with complications, as I became a survivor of sexual assault just as I was entering teenhood, which had many reverberating effects (Sky-bound Misfit was inspired by this experience). At age 16, I was admitted into the youth protection system in Montreal and remained there until I turned 18 (of which inspired Butterflies in the System). Although I was expelled from school in grade 10, I managed to graduate from an alternate school with much help from supportive teachers. The Montreal youth protection system had not prepared me for independence and I found myself quite alone and depressed upon discharge. I spent the next year between home and couch surfing, while I figured out my next steps.
When college finally came along, I chose the Social Sciences program. Journalism was my goal, but life took over and I became a single parent at the age of nineteen. Journalism required an around-the-clock lifestyle that I couldn't compete with, so I settled on the Languages & Literature program instead. My need to explore people, cultures, and society through reading and writing remained strong. With a lot of effort, dedication and support I continued on to complete degrees in Social Anthropology, World Religions, and Education. My writing took an academic turn and my life became busy with school, family, and work. However, my dream of writing fiction continued.
As a young single mother and university student, I struggled with social anxiety. I had always been shy and the pressures involved in juggling parenthood, financial obligations, and university were hard to manage. At times, the challenges in my life seemed to be suffocating my dreams. My dream to write was crumbling along with my mental health. Then one of my teachers put me in touch with a fantastic program called Project Chance. Project Chance was a low-cost housing project for single mothers who were also university students. Our building housed twenty-one mothers with their children. With my new support network, I persevered through my studies. I am sharing this part of my life with you because the support and life experience that I gained during this time were invaluable to my creative growth as a person and my ability to keep dreaming. During this period in my life, I realized that working through life's challenges was just as important to my creative self-growth as was having time to write. I knew that one day I would write my book and that everything up until that day was essentially research.
With my renewed lust for life and alleviated financial pressures, I craved new experiences and put all of my spare change towards traveling. I explored the world, soaking up experiences in Europe, Australasia, West Africa and remote parts of Asia. Together with my young son (and later with my husband and two younger children), I lived, studied and worked in Canada, Norway, Australia and New Zealand. My lust for writing grew along with my stack of journals.
Somewhere along the way I fell in love, learned to climb rock and ice, back-country ski and sea kayak, got married (to the awesome guy who I learned all those cool tricks with). During this time, I began to work for the United Nations Association of Norway, creating environmental education programs for children. My work involved project coordination, blogging, creating community activities, and writing stories and songs for kids. I also taught at the local university college and worked as a freelance editor. In 2012, I moved to a small town in British Columbia with my family, picked up mountain biking and skate skiing (together with the same awesome guy), and continued my work coordinating educational programs, producing educational material, blogging, teaching and editing.
All this may seem like a busy distraction away from my dream of writing fiction, but it was the contrary. My life experiences and challenges have been exceptional learning opportunities and they are what make me a strong creative writer. If I had to reduce my advice for other start-up authors to one sentence, it would be this:
Live, struggle, learn new things, listen, take notes, grow, and you will create!
Born in: Sweden (to Irish parents)
Raised in: Laval, QC, Canada
Current place of residence: Golden BC, Canada
Favorite book: The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay
Toughest challenges in life: dealing with discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault, social anxiety, and depression.
Favorite pastimes: reading, writing, skiing, mountain biking, climbing, kayaking, hiking, playing with my family and friends.
Butterflies in the System
Butterflies in the System is a story about love, incarceration, and perseverance. Inspired by true events, it follows a year in the life of five teenagers as they struggle through the youth protection system in Montreal.
Through the halls of a group home, into lockdown within a youth detention centre, and onto the streets, Sam and her peers navigate through a world kept hidden from the public eye. Their future in the hands of judges, social workers, and childcare workers, the teens learn the value in empathy and friendship.
Jane Powell is an alumna of Ville Marie Social Services and Youth Horizons (now Batshaw Youth and Family Centres) in Montreal. She wrote this story to raise awareness of the challenge teens face while in youth protection, where they are subjected to variable and often unethical care.
Testimonials: Butterflies in the System
Word on the Street
“Great read! The first chapter alone brought me back 30 years. It’s fiction, but it was still very close to home for me. I recommend this book to anyone who even spent 48 hours in the system.” –Lyne Meilleur, Alumna 1989-92, Shawbridge Youth Centres (Prévost Campus) and Youth Horizons in Montreal, QC
Excerpt from Butterflies in the System
Manny Cottage Youth Detention Centre was nothing like Alcatraz. I opened the window, squeezed through (ripping my t-shirt only a bit), and I was on my way. It was just my luck that the nurse's window led out to the back of the building and not to the front. The riskiest part was making my way from the back of the building to the woods—that were about 100 feet away—without being seen through other windows.
The only way to do it was by mad-dash and that's what I did.
Into the woods I flew, like a wild-eyed deer escaping a hunter's scope. I only stopped for a quick breath when I reached the highway ditch at the other side. Now I'd have to tap into my sixth sense and be patient. The last thing I wanted was to thumb a ride with someone who was going to drive me right back to where I started.
I'd need to judge drivers by their cars and cross my fingers. I figured it best to stick to jazzed-up old Fords and cheap Honda Civics booming with music—they'd be driven by people who wouldn't ask questions. But time was of the essence. I'd have to move fast.
A sky blue Volkswagen bug approached. Its front bumper was crooked, and Jimi Hendrix blasted through open windows. Perfect. I stood up from the ditch and made myself fully visible. I put one hand on my hip and raised the other one with my thumb stuck up, as if I was relaxed and friendly and only needed a lift to the café in the next village.
The guy in the car waved and pulled over onto the shoulder a few feet up the road. I ran to the car, opened the door, and hopped in before he could get his first question out. As long as I was in, I was pretty sure I'd be able to convince him to give me a ride to where I wanted to go. I'd become quite adept at getting what I wanted out of boys and men. Smile sweetly, laugh at everything they say, and play just-dumb-enough. It wasn't me at all, and only guys who didn't know me fell for it, like this guy for instance.
I shut the car door after me, turned towards the guy and introduced myself, "Eh, I'm Gabe, thanks for stopping!" A fake name was the best way to go and the first one that came to mind was Gabe's. "I'm going South, as far as you are or as close to Montreal as you can get, whichever works."
The guy slowly observed me through bloodshot eyes. He smelled of pot and looked like he'd been tree planting all day, or perhaps 24/7 for the past month. He was in his early 20s and had blond dreadlocks that I thought may just be natural—a result of not washing or brushing his curls for a very long time, like maybe never.
Dreadlocks finally spoke, "Eh, man ... no prob. Headin' that way anyway."
I laughed warmly at nothing in particular, and he responded with a flirtatious smile.
"Rick." He threw his name out as if it were special, a gift just for me.
Rick turned the music back up and pulled off the shoulder onto the highway. I glanced back at Manny Cottage, breathed in deeply, exhaled deliberately, and smiled. Freedom had never felt so good.
Then I fell asleep for real.
About an hour later, Rick nudged me awake and asked, "Eh, man … uh … Gabe? We're almost in town. Where you goin'? Vendôme metro work?"
I nodded, "Yeah, yeah that'll do I guess."
Rick looked thoughtful and hesitated before he continued, "You seem, uh ... you got a place to go?"
His question made me nervous, "Yeah, yeah of course. You can just let me out wherever. Like, here is fine." I pointed to the bus stop coming up on our right.
He glanced at me and shrugged, "OK, whatever. I was just gonna say that I know a place you can crash, eh, if ya' need it. It's gettin' late and it’s not exactly summer no more. That t-shirt’s not gonna do the trick tonight."
I thought about his offer for a moment. I hadn't made plans. I didn't have anywhere to go. The last time I ran away for an extended period, I had stayed with my uncle's friend—who'd turned out to be a real douche—and his gang of mini-douches. No way I'd be repeating that crap. I decided to trust Dreadlock Rick. What could really go wrong? This guy was about as dangerous as a stoned pussycat.
"Sure. OK. Yeah. I kinda need a place tonight." I'd said it. Done. Now I'd have to hope for the best and take things as they came. I desperately hoped it wouldn't involve any "favours". The Douche Gang had been big on favours.
A few minutes later we exited the highway, drove the loop around and under the overpass, and pulled into what seemed like nothing more than an overgrown field of wild grasses and giant thistles.
It wasn't until I stepped out of the car did I realize we were actually parked on what once was a long cement-paved driveway. Behind a few of the tallest thistles, which were about twice my height, stood an old rickety house that appeared to have emerged out of a Nightmare on Elm Street movie—after Freddy had corrupted it and violently slaughtered all its inhabitants. I stopped by the side of the car, staring at the house.
"That's your suggestion? The place that's gonna keep me safe tonight? Are you for fuckin' real?" I glared at Rick, waiting for his rationalization.
Frankie's life began in an Irish pub in Montreal's French east end. As she listens to her dad's band jam to the beats of life, the most unfortunate of coincidences happens and her life is changed forever.
Being a girl in the 1980s isn't easy. Frankie soon comes to see it as an impromptu jam session filled with unexpected beats. The beats she experiences in high school are filled with laughter, tears, love, anger, and hope. Dealing with bullies becomes a daily nightmare. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll become a big part of her struggles and healing process.
Frankie learns that the key to survival is friendship, determination, and figuring out how to become an author in the song that is her life.
*Accompanying the book, you will also find discussion questions on the book's topics.
Testimonials: Sky-bound Misfit
Word on the Street
Excerpt from Sky-Bound Misfit
"Later that day, I sat just below the tracks on the ledge that was molded into the top of one of the enormous concrete posts that held the train bridge up. The bridge had three huge iron arches that stretched above it from one end to the other. Iron beams crisscrossed from the tops of the arches down to the mainframe, linking the magnificent structure together. From a distance, at dusk, the train bridge looked like a fantastic beast, like a dragon bounding over the river with its back and tail arching in waves of playful excitement. It reminded me of Falkor, the white luck dragon. I sat on the ledge with my headphones on, listening to music with my back against an iron beam. The river rushed under the bridge, far beneath me. Earlier in the summer, Eva and I had picked this to be our regular meeting spot. It was our secret place, our “clubhouse,” where we could be alone, uninterrupted.
Eva lived in Roxboro, the next train stop over toward Montreal. The train bridge was about a half hour walk from her house. She’d only taken the train a handful of times, though, as she said her mum didn’t trust any vehicle that she wasn’t driving herself. Eva and I had planned to meet at two o’clock. I checked my watch. She was a few minutes late, which was typical of Eva. If I was a five-minute early-bird, she was a 10-minute late-bird.
I ejected the U2 tape from my Walkman, popped in Pat Benatar, and pressed play. As I was fiddling with my Walkman, Pinky crawled out of my bag, up the front of my T-shirt, sniffed the air, and then made herself comfortable on my shoulder under my hair. I wasn’t worried about her disappearing on me. She regularly followed me around the island. She knew her way home. I found a marker in my bag and began to doodle.
A few minutes later, I put down my marker and studied the drawing I’d just completed on my arm. My butterfly tattoo had been transformed into a magical flying luck dragon. I smiled, satisfied with my work. Much better. The dragon was the one from the dream I’d had in the music room, just before I’d fallen madly in love with Gil. Thinking of this luck dragon made me feel happy and safe, and a little sad too. If only my luck hadn’t been so delicate, so volatile. If only. I put my leather armband back on, over my luck dragon doodle. It was still technically that damn butterfly tattoo. I preferred it stayed hidden. It wasn’t a topic I wanted to discuss with anyone.”