In which pages are turned, at a faster rate than usual. Character-soaked, but still fast-paced storytelling.
Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves (2017) is set in a future in which the dominant culture has determined that the blood of indigenous peoples holds an inherent value for healing. Exploitation and genocide ensue.
This pattern of behaviour could have laid the foundation for many a historical novel, but moving her story into the future not only creates fascinating parallels but it also places young indigenous characters in the role of revolutionaries and care-takers with a sense of startling immediacy.
Reminding us all, along the way, that young indigenous blood and voices are essential for these cultures’ continued existence as well as the preservation of community, language, and specific traditions which have been under attack for centuries.
With The Marrow Thieves narrated primarily from an adolescent boy’s perspective, much of the book has a definite ‘us’ and ‘them’ simplicity.
“Poisoning your own drinking water, changing the air so much the earth shook and melted and crumbled, harvesting a race for medicine. How? How could this happen? Were they that much different from us? Would we be like them if we’d had a choice? Were they like us enough to let us live?”
But complications do arise and Frenchie’s trust and distrust are misaligned and assumptions challenged. Occasionally emotions are discussed in such frank terms that a passage can seem almost instructive, which fits with the marketing of this book to include YA readers, but the story itself is wholly satisfying for adult readers too.
The aspect of this story which I most enjoyed and most dreaded were the creation stories, which are called “coming-to” stories. These are devastating and brutal accounts of suffering which led this small group of survivalists to walk this path together. They pepper the narrative and gradually secure readers’ investment in the characters, defying readers to remain indifferent.
Twice I had to set aside the book to allow these scenes to settle in my mind. They resonate strongly and are all-too-recognizable. Otherwise, I could hardly leave the book alone, and the resolution combines satisfaction with yearning in all the right ways. The page-turning quality is rooted partly in an antagonistic premise and partly in readers’ attachment to Frenchie. (The novel was longlisted for the Kirkus Awards in the U.S. and won the Governor General’s Award in Canada.)
In contrast, Daniel Griffin’s Two Roads Home (2017) reaches back in time, to 1993, positing that the environmental protests in that decade in British Columbia took a violent turn. This is how it begins, with the bulk of the action falling over several weeks, with characters moving deliberately and directly across the pages.
“The five of them, four men and one woman, left their van in a dirt pullout below Bedwell Pass on a Sunday morning in early April. They walked a torn twist of logging road into a clear-cut, little piles of dead wood stacked here and there among the stumps. The slope rose and the logging road started into a belt of cedar and fir only to end abruptly at a churned-up mound of earth — bulldozer, backhoe and dump truck idle at the road head.”