________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 1 . . . . September 8, 2017

cover

The Marrow Thieves.

Cherie Dimaline.
Toronto, ON: Dancing Cat Books, 2017.
234 pp., Trade pbk. & html, $14.95 (pbk,).
ISBN 978-177086-486-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-177086-487-0 (html).

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4

   

excerpt:

And then, even after our way of life was being commoditized, after our lands were filled with water companies and wealthy corporate investors, we were still hopeful. Because we had each other. New communities started to form, and we were gathering strength. But then the Church and the scientists that were working day and night on the dream problem came up with their solution and everything went to hell.

They asked for volunteers first. Put out ads asking for people with 'Indigenous bloodlines and good general health' to check in with local clinics for medical trials. They'd give you room and board for a week and a small honorarium to pay for your time off work. By then our distrust had grown stronger, and they didn't get many volunteers from the public. So they turned to the prisons. The prisons were always full of our people. Whether or not the prisoners went voluntarily, who knows? There weren't enough people worried about the well being of prisoners to really make sure.

It began as a rumour, that they had found a way to siphon the dreams right out of our bones, a rumour whispered every time one of us went missing, a rumour denounced every time their doctors sent us to hospitals and treatments (sic) centers never to return. They kept sending us away, enticing us to seek medical care and then keeping us locked up, figuring out ways to hone and perfect their 'solution' for sale.

Soon, they needed too many bodies, and they turned to history to show them how to best keep us warehoused, how to best position the culling. That's when the new residential schools started growing up from the dirt like poisonous brick mushrooms.

We go to the schools and they leach the dreams from where our ancestors hid them, in the honeycombs of slushy marrow buried in our bones. And us? Well, we join our ancestors, hoping we left enough dreams behind for the next generation to stumble across.

Global warming has almost ruined the planet, and people are no longer able to dream. The exception is indigenous people whose bone marrow holds the cure to dreamlessness. They are unwilling donors and are hunted down and captured by recruiters. This is the world in which Francis (Frenchie) finds himself. He is only 16-years-old, has lost his family and is now on the run with a group of people heading north in an attempt to survive.

      Award winning Métis author Cherie Dimaline presents an interesting cast of characters who are thrown together by circumstance but must work as a team in order to endure the hardships they face. Each has his or her own role in the community in order to benefit the group. Miig and Minerva are elders who help to lead the group as well as to impart knowledge to the younger members. There are four young men: Tree and his twin Zheegwon, Chi Boy and Frenchie. The novel is told from Frenchie's point of view although the others are often given the chance to tell their own stories about how they came to be alone before joining the group. Wab and Rose are the two female characters, and the children RiRi and Slopper complete the cast.

      In many ways, The Marrow Thieves is a coming of age novel as Frenchie learns to become more self reliant and take a leadership role within the small group. He has suffered the loss of his own family but is resilient and determined to survive. He knows that caring for one another is the first step toward caring for the planet. The human desire to survive and create new generations in a reborn environment is strong.

      There is adventure in the story as the indigenous group must evade not only the recruiters but also traitors, described as "Indians turning in other Indians". As well, Dimarline adds romance to the plot as the friendship between Frenchie and Rose deepens.

      Themes of The Marrow Thieves are typical of dystopian or post apocalyptic literature, and readers see characters battling other characters, characters battling the injustices of society and also characters battling nature, itself. Woven through the text are themes of oppression, social justice and the need to rebuild society and start afresh. The novel deals with the difficult philosophical question of what it means to be human, and the author illustrates her thesis with the group of caring and committed indigenous characters she has created.

      There is much to learn from The Marrow Thieves as well as much to enjoy while reading it. There are warm and tender moments as well as harsh reminders of residential schools and the effects of societal carelessness in allowing global warming to become irreversible. Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers alike will think about the themes and the characters long after they close the cover.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.



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