Book Review: Precious Cargo: My Year of Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077

Reviewed by: Jen
Genre: Non-fiction – Autobiography/Memoir
Format: Soft cover

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 3/5 stars
In stock: Yes


My second 2018 Canada Reads…read. This time around I didn’t feel the sense of enlightenment this year’s Canada Reads theme (One Book to Open Your Eyes) was striving to offer that my first did.

Am I glad that I heard Davidson’s versions of the kids on bus 3077’s stories? Yes. Absolutely. I’d have to be totally dead inside not to truly care about these kids and their lives, and I don’t think I’m quite there just yet. Do I think that Davidson cares deeply for those passengers, and looks back fondly at his time with them, and that their stories are profoundly important and necessary to be told? Without a doubt.

I’m actually hoping to hear from my colleagues that I’m wrong – that my irritation with Craig Davidson’s writing style was perhaps just subject to the times and places I found myself reading it – that it doesn’t actually become derivative or repetitive, and that Davidson isn’t really trying to milk a whole book out of a short story. For whatever reason, I’d love to be told to re-read it, that I was crazy to be annoyed with the random fictionalized chapters that Davidson threw into the mix – that in fact they did flow nicely with the memoir chapters. Essentially, I want to like this book, to root for it.

So with all of that said, I’ll simply insert here a GoodReads synopsis of the book and welcome any input from people who enjoyed it more than me!

With his last novel, Cataract City, Craig Davidson established himself as one of our most talented novelists. But in his early thirties, before writing that novel and before his previous work, Rust and Bone, was made into an Oscar-nominated film, Davidson experienced a period of poverty, apparent failure and despair. In this new work of intimate, riveting and timely non-fiction, based loosely on a National Magazine Award-winning article he published in The Walrus, Davidson tells the story of one year in his life–a year during which he came to a new, mature understanding of his own life and his connection to others. Or, as Davidson would say, he became an adult.

One morning in 2008, desperate and impoverished and living in a one-room basement apartment while trying unsuccessfully to write, Davidson plucked a flyer out of his mailbox that read, “Bus Drivers Wanted.” That was the first step towards an unlikely new career: driving a school bus full of special-needs kids for a year. Armed only with a sense of humour akin to that of his charges, a creative approach to the challenge of driving a large, awkward vehicle while corralling a rowdy gang of kids, and surprising but unsentimental reserves of empathy, Davidson takes us along for the ride. He shows us how his evolving relationship with the kids on that bus, each of them struggling physically as well as emotionally and socially, slowly but surely changed his life along with the lives of the “precious cargo” in his care. This is the extraordinary story of that year and those relationships. It is also a moving, important and universal story about how we see and treat people with special needs in our society.

Precious Cargo made the cut into CBC Read’s 2018 Canada Reads shortlist, and in March will be defended by Greg Johnson, one of North America’s top professional storm-chasers, an accomplished photographer, speaker and workshop leader.

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