The Marrow Thieves

The Marrow ThievesThe Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (Website, Twitter, Insta)

Genre: futuristic/dystopian

Setting: Ontario, Canada

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 234 pp

Published by: DCB (10 May 2017)

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Frenchie is a 15 year old boy from what is left of Canada’s First Nations Anishinaabe people. He is traveling with a group of other people from various Indigenous backgrounds, trying to avoid capture by the “recruiters,” the non-Indigenous people who have lost their ability to dream. The Native people are being hunted because they still have the ability to dream, and so the rest of the world wants them in the hopes of finding a cure for the dreamlessness that is causing mass suicide and madness.

This story had so much potential and an interesting premise, but it was not executed well at all. There is almost no character development for any of the people, very little back story, and no real plot. French and his group wander vaguely northward for the whole book, seeking some hopeful place where they will not be hunted anymore. The love story between French and Rose is forced and fake. The death of one of the group members seemed contrived simply for emotional impact, but since none of the characters had any real depth, it was pretty meaningless. 

The title implies the crux of the story had something to do with, well, marrow. But it turns out that the key to the dream plague is the ability to dream in one’s native language. This information was almost a throwaway line and I nearly missed it. But even with that evidence, there is no explanation for how Minerva was able to destroy the machine at the School when the recruiters were trying to harvest her marrow, or why she was used in such a role in the book when she was mostly dead weight the rest of the time. All of a sudden, she’s the key to solving all the world’s problems? Right.

The marrow itself is also a problem. I can’t remember what it’s called, but I think there is a technology we have NOW that allows a small sample of DNA to be replicated so the original sample isn’t destroyed. I remember reading about it in a true crime book and it is often used to solve murders where there isn’t a lot of DNA evidence. If we have the technology NOW, then believing the premise of the entire book – that Natives are being hunted for their marrow – becomes nearly impossible. If you have a dystopia, it needs to be believable to be effective as a story. But given the technology we already have, it’s impossible to think there would be any reason to hunt Native peoples for their marrow when a sample could just be collected and replicated. 

Also, French and his group spend the whole book trying to avoid the Schools and recruiters, and yet not once do we see one of the Schools. We don’t know what is being done to the Natives in them, there is no grand plan to rescue all the people from a nearby School, nothing. If the goal was to make the Schools seem monolithic and terrifying, then it really fell flat.  The closest we got was the rescue attempt to get Minerva back, and that didn’t even occur near a School. It seemed to exist simply to provide a reason to say she dreamed in her native language, which could have been said at any time without a pointless action sequence. Similarly, there was no discussion on how people lost the ability to dream, what caused it, how it is linked to climate change, or anything else. 

As a metaphor for the ways in which we have mistreated both Indigenous peoples and nature, it was a little ham-handed. Yes, I totally agree that white people are historically awful and continue to be today. Yes, Indigenous peoples all have a rich culture of their own and they should be fostered and supported, not torn down or assimilated. Yes, they experienced awful trauma because of colonization. I am not trying to criticize that aspect of the book, because learning and understanding history from various perspectives is important. I’m glad I read this since I do try hard to read diversely, but I also don’t feel like I came away with any better understanding of Native American or First Nations cultures at all, or how colonization fucked them over and became part of their story. 

Mostly, it seemed to be a meandering, plotless story with Indians running around in the woods. I think the book fell victim to the stereotypes it was trying to dismantle.

Jonny Appleseed

Jonny AppleseedJonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead (Twitter, Insta)

Genre: contemporary/literary fiction

Setting: Manitoba/Peguis First Nation

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 224 pp

Published by: Arsenal Press (15 May 2018)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Jonny Appleseed is about a First Nations boy who is gay and trying to figure out how to be his best self. His mother wants him to come back to the Reservation for his stepfather’s funeral. Getting there requires more cash than he has on hand and so he works extra at his job, which is as an online sex worker. During the few days it takes him to save enough cash to get home, Jonny reflects on the experiences from his past that have helped to make him who he is right now, with a fever-dream kind of feel to the memories.

I am honestly not sure how to write a review of this book that really encompasses my thoughts without making me sound like either an idiot or an asshole. I loved this book, though, and loved learning more about the Cree Nation, where Jonny as well as author Joshua Whitehead are from. Truly, it isn’t possible for me to have known less about the Cree before beginning this book, so it was an interesting reading and learning experience. 

I enjoyed learning some Cree words, though I absolutely have no idea how to say them. At first, I wanted a glossary because not all of the words used in the book were explained by context (or maybe I just didn’t get it), but then I decided that I liked that there was no glossary. It felt more real for the words just to be there, slipped into the narrative as they probably would be in normal conversation, and it is my job as a reader to figure them out. I always like learning about a culture that isn’t familiar to me and I appreciated the richness that was imparted through this story.

Many parts of this were heartbreaking. Not just because of how people treated Jonny as a Two-Spirit indigiqueer person, as he calls himself. But also because of how poor he and most of his acquaintances are, how hard they have to work to scrape together enough to buy something like a six-pack, or that they work hard just SO they can buy a six-pack or spirits. 

I think this is a book everyone should read. It will make you laugh, cry, and most importantly, think and empathise. 

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • Home isn’t a space, it’s a feeling. … And it isn’t always comfortable – at least, not an NDN home. In fact, quite often, it’s uncomfortable. But it’s home because the bannock is still browning in the oven and your kokum is still making tea and eating Arrowroot biscuits. … And, given time, it becomes mobile – you can take those rituals with you, uproot your home as if it were a flower.
  • But I just laughed and I think he got mad – I wish he knew that when an NDN laughs, it’s because they’re applying a fresh layer of medicine on an open wound.
  • Don’t be thinking I don’t know who this is for – you like that Walker boy. I’m fine with that, son, Creator, he made you for a reason – you girl and you boy and that’s fine with me, but what’s not fine is you selling yourself short. You gotta leave if you wanna survive, and when you do you’re gonna need the steadiness of those hands, m’boy. You’re gonna need a rock and a whole lotta medicine. 
  • I am my own best medicine.
  • But the way he told stories was so sincere that I couldn’t help but become enamoured. That was when I learned just how much power there is in stories …
  • “Howa, he’s just snapped,” someone said, which made Jordan laugh. “Oh heck, that guy’s feeling no pain,” she said. That saying is weird, “feeling no pain.” I used to laugh at it too, but nowadays I think that they’re drunk because they’re feeling all kinds of pain.
  • My kokum had always told me that sleep was not a waste of time, that it was a time for healing, so I slept long and hard, waiting for my blood to leech out its memories and for my body to rejuvenate.
  • “But you – you my everything, m’boy, all this time you been my rock.”  “No, Momma,” I replied, “you’re my rock. I’m just the one who broke you.”  “Maybe,” she said, biting her lip. “But then you also the one who ground me. Ground me up into a medicine.”
  • …a good story is always a healing ceremony, we recuperate, re-member, and rejuvenate those we storytell into the world…

 

Whale Rider

949043Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera (no author websites found)

Her Grace’s rating:  2 out of 5 stars

Genre: fiction

I read it as an: audiobooks

Narrator: Jay Laga’aia

Source: library

Length: 03:39:00

Published by: Bolinda (8 July 2005)

This is the story of Kahu, a young Maori girl who badly wants to be loved by her great-grandfather, her tribe’s chief. He has no time for any girl children and is absorbed in his duties and responsibilities as the chief. Their tribe, which claims descent from the legendary whale rider of myth,  always has a male chief but now there is no male heir. To gain her great-grandad’s approval, Kahu struggles to learn the stories and roles of her tribe and show everyone that she is worthy. Among her allies is the spirit of the whale rider himself. 

This is, apparently, a very well known legend in New Zealand. I confess I had no knowledge of it other than a vague recollection from the film, which I saw years ago. It was interesting to learn about Maori culture and language in modern times. The struggles indigenous peoples around the world still face are incredible. Why are we so awful to each other? 

I didn’t care for the narrator too much. He made his voice sound really, badly high when he was speaking a woman’s lines. No. Don’t do that. He was fine for the various men’s voices, though, and said Maori words with what appeared to be fluency. Not knowing a single word of the Maori language, I wouldn’t know if they were pronounced incorrectly anyway. I enjoyed how the native language was spread throughout the book. 

I found the writing style to be rather simple, or simplified perhaps, which was sort of a turnoff. I also found it an odd choice for the story to be told from Kahu’s uncle’s point of view. Why not from Kahu’s herself? Or even her great-grandad? It just seemed a weird person to act as the narrator. 

Overall, I’m glad I listened to it, always like learning more about a culture, but I didn’t realllllly care for this one too much.