SFU author shares her family story in CareyOn

SFU's Cindy Graves is set to be acknowledged at the Celebration of SFU Authors event at the WAC Bennett Library on March 22.

Everyone has family stories — the kind that get swept under the rug and are not talked about either to protect a family member, or, more often than not, to avoid dealing with a difficult situation or event. Imagine taking that story and writing a memoir about it, essentially sharing those secrets with the world.

Cindy Graves, who works at SFU as a Director of Advancement, told the whole truth about an event that haunted her family for years and that some of them still haven’t gotten over. She shares the details of her sister Natalie’s young love, and the events that led to her father serving jail time for shooting Natalie’s boyfriend, in CareyOn.    

Graves didn’t always know she was going to write this book. Her father used to say that he should write about it, but after years of telling people the story in person, she decided it was finally time to put pen to paper.

She had thought that there was no way she would be able to tell the truth about everything. The trouble with memoirs is that the characters in the book are your family members who may not want their story shared. After taking a memoir writing course at SFU, Graves decided she had to tell the truth, and would have to be ready for the repercussions.

Natalie Carey met John Ranberg (whose name was changed for the book) in high school, and the story revolves around their tumultuous, unhealthy relationship. Natalie got pregnant at 14 and had to go through a traumatic abortion, but she remained loyal to John long after that. John and the girls’ father, Harry Carey, never got along, but the trouble started when John and his friends began terrorizing the Carey farm. One night, after becoming fed up with the disturbances, Mr. Carey took out his shotgun and fired at the car, not knowing who was inside.

That incident only caused Natalie to become more estranged from the family, and eventually her father gave her an ultimatum: stop seeing John or move out of his house. She took the latter option and moved in with a friend.

The perspective switches between Cindy and Natalie, allowing for a well-rounded telling of the story and both an inside and outside perspective on Natalie’s troubled relationship. Graves mentioned that some people have asked if she co-authored the book with her sister because her character’s voice is so strong, and it does feel that way — in fact, Natalie wasn’t willing to talk to her sister about that time in her life. Graves had to rely on memory and her best guesses to craft the story of Natalie and John. Natalie also requested that her name be changed for the book, and still has not been able to read to entire thing.  

“It did cause some unrest within the family,” said Graves, explaining that her other sister Christine was very upset and felt exposed by the book. She was mad for a long time. “I thought I was giving them a gift, a legacy, but the reaction wasn’t what I expected.” Another unexpected consequence was that her aunt found out a family secret about sexual abuse only through reading this book — Graves had thought she already knew.

In order to refresh her memory and get certain details right, Graves visited the Orangeville library to look at old newspaper articles about the incident, and she also interviewed her parents and the lawyer who represented her father. She found it interesting that everyone had their own slightly different version of events that they remembered.

The title refers to the Carey family’s barn parties that they dubbed “CareyOn,” but, as Graves explained, it also refers to the family’s ability to carry on and ignore some of the events happening around them. Her father carried on as if nothing has happened after his daughter left home, and the rest of the family followed suit, not daring mention her name.

This is a gripping, high-stakes story that makes you want to keep reading to find out what will become of Natalie, find out how the family will cope, and see if they will truly be able to carry on. With relatable characters and familiar themes about growing up, young love, family dynamics, and figuring out who you are, CareyOn highlights the importance of open family communication and never letting someone slip away.


Cindy Graves is one of the authors who will be acknowledged at the Celebration of SFU Authors event at the WAC Bennett Library on March 22.