CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 1 . . . . September 8, 2017
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.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.