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YA Books That Take Place in Waterloo Region: Between Worlds by Lori Wolf-Heffner

YA Books That Take Place in Waterloo Region: Between Worlds by Lori Wolf-Heffner

Waterloo Region is my home–I was born here, grew up here, and aside from a few years in Germany and eight months in Edmonton–have lived here all my life. When I began planning this series, it made no sense whatsoever to choose a city the world was more familiar with, like, ahem, Toronto (apologies to family who live there). I wanted to write novels that take place here. I’ve lived in many neighbourhoods in Kitchener and Waterloo, but settled on an area in Kitchener with many fond memories for me: the Belmont neighbourhood and Belmont Village. That’s why I wrote YA books that take place in Waterloo Region.

Belmont Neighbourhood: Where My Protagonist’s Family Lives

Bestival in Belmont Village, Kitchener, Ontario. Photo by Andrea Deering.
Couple dancing at Bestival arts festival in Belmont Village. Photo by Andrea Deering: www.addstudio.ca

Juliana–the main character–and her family live on a street that’s bordered by Union, King, Westmount, and Glasgow. The house does exist, but I won’t give away the address here; it would invade the current owner’s privacy. My mom’s family lived there, with my grandmother enjoying over 40 years in that home.

In the book, you’ll read about the tiny kitchen, and it was indeed tiny! I don’t know how we did it, but we fit both my mom’s and aunt’s families in there–that’s eight–plus my grandmother–nine–and any significant others–often another two–for a total of eleven–for Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, and Easter. If someone needed a plate from the wall unit behind us, it was quite the squishy reach to get it, but it was doable!

In Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving in October, and in Kitchener and Waterloo, we have the Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thanksgiving Day. (Also called the Oktoberfest Parade.) Some years it would snow, others it would rain, and yet others it would be toasty warm. Over 100,000 people would line King Street to watch floats, bands, and different characters walk by. We’d then walk back to Oma’s for Thanksgiving Day lunch.

Needless to say, I have a lot of memories about family there.

Belmont Village

Lori Wolf-Heffner holds a copy of Between Worlds 3: The First Step in front of the Belmont Village sign. It's one of the YA books that take place in Waterloo Region that she wrote.
Selfie in Belmont Village, with Between Worlds 3: The First Step.

Because the first three books deal with Juliana’s move from Calgary to Kitchener, I needed to get the reader comfortable in Juliana’s new world before I could dive into the details that make Belmont her home. Belmont Village is an extension of her home: it’s a quaint shopping strip that’s a skip, hop, and jump from her front door.

In Between Worlds 4: What Friends Do, I branch out, with two scenes that take place in a fictional café in Belmont Village. Belmont Village is on Belmont Avenue, Kitchener, which is lined with businesses on both sides of the street. West of Belmont Avenue is the neighbourhood of Westmount, and east of it is Juliana’s neighbourhood of Belmont.

All of this was founded, though, by a powerful industry in the early 20th century: Kitchener’s manufacturing sector. This became the backbone for Between Worlds 8: A Father’s Journey.

The Waterloo Region Rubber Industry

Juliana’s grandfather, whom she calls “Opa,” used to work at a local rubber factory. For the early books in the series, I relied on Greg Mercer’s exposés in The Record, our local daily paper. However, in July 2020, I received a grant from the Waterloo Region Arts Fund to interview former rubber workers in Waterloo Region. The project wrapped up in July 2021 with the publication of Between Worlds 8: A Father’s Journey.

My grandparents who lived in Belmont worked at the Uniroyal factory on Strange St. (my grandfather in the factory, my grandmother in the canteen), so I wanted to bring this aspect of Waterloo Region’s history to life. I felt that adding real stories (anonymously) would help readers all over North America and beyond experience the disappearing industrial sector in our region.

And now, and introduction to this multi-generational series that’s suitable for the family…

The Waterloo Region Arts Sector

Another reason I wanted to write YA books that take place in Waterloo Region was the arts sector here. My parents registered me in baton lessons with Deardra King-Leslie when I was really young, hoping it would help me overcome my shyness. An accidental bonk on the head from the baton (I wasn’t listening and threw it in the air when I wasn’t supposed to) told us all that maybe baton just wasn’t my thing. So we tried jazz. That grew into tap, then ballet, and before we knew it, I was competing.

After university, I worked for a short time at Theatre & Co. and managed the Registry Theatre for three years. When I hung up my freelance writer’s sign, the Centre in the Square was one of my first clients. I also wrote articles for several dance magazines.

Although dance is what I do, Juliana learns about her family history through drawing. Moreover, handicrafts and what we might call today textile arts come to play an important in the life of Elisabeth and her mother, Juliana’s great-grandmother and great-great grandmother.

So, what’s this series about? I thought you’d never ask.

A Century-Old Diary Could Change Everything for Juliana

Teenager Juliana moves from Calgary to Kitchener with her parents to care for an ailing grandfather. Cut off from her friends, surrounded by strangers, and unable to dance out her frustrations, Juliana becomes overwhelmed by the whirlwind of changes spinning around her. Scared she’ll explode and embarrass herself, she runs one night to the only place she can: her grandfather’s musty cellar…

With Tata gone to America after Europe’s great war and Mammi now toiling away in the family’s shoemaking  workshop, Elisabeth must care for her siblings and prepare for Christmas. When her brother and two sisters refuse to listen and her list of chores grows ever longer, Elisabeth worries that neither drawing in her sketchbook nor praying to God can help her survive these changes.

When Juliana discovers Elisabeth’s sketchbook of unknown people, struggles, and celebrations, she knows in her heart that she’s found her lifeline in this new world. But how will she understand what the drawings mean?

Between Worlds is Lori Wolf-Heffner’s contemporary/historical series written for families. Readers as young as 12 and well past 80 are enjoying the series. If you enjoy local fiction and love history, the arts, and family, head to a local store to pick up your first book in the series today and enjoy a story that spans generations.

What Are Readers Saying About Between Worlds?

A friend introduced this series to me and my daughter, we read a chapter every night, we love the two worlds, the one world so familiar to a 12 year old and the other world something so very unfamiliar yet intriguing! Real life. We love this local author Lori Wolf-Heffner and we are excited to work our way through the series, about to break open book 4!

4-star Amazon review

As the story goes on, some lovely surprises occur that include connections of the two story lines. A very educational story about empathy, family bonds, the effects of War, deep friendships, loss, grief, acceptance and maturity. A very worthwhile read!

5-star Goodreads review

i started to read it when i went to bed as that is when i enjoy most of my reading, thinking that it wouldn’t be long before i got tired. well as a surprise to me when i started reading this story, i couldn’t put it down till i was finished the book. 

5-star Goodreads review

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