CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 27 . . . . March 16, 2012
Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican Publications, 2011.
151 pp., trade pbk., $14.95.
Grades 9-11/ Ages 14-16.
Review by Beth Wilcox.
It was on Sunday afternoon when seemingly all the crap in the world hit the fan. That’s when my life as it had always been spun completely out of control. That’s when I began to want more than anything else to somehow turn back the days. Turn back the clock. Stop time and then reverse it. Make it all un happen.
But on that Friday morning, when Frank finally grabbed me in the hall and forced me to tell Jen I was crapping out of the trip, I only knew that because of my dream experience I was too uneasy and junked up to possibly go with them. My throat was raw. It’d wreck the trip if I went, and I could see even while explaining it to her as reasonably as possible, Jen was completely ticked.
In T.D. Thompson's latest young adult novel Rooster, Thompson interweaves struggles with spirituality, identity, and loss into the experiences of his 17 year old protagonist, James a.k.a "Rooster." These ideas enter the novel from the first pages when Rooster has a prophetic dream about suffocating under a mound of sharp white feathers. Rooster feels the experience was more than a nightmare and decides not to go on the backcountry ski trip he had planned with his best friend and girlfriend. The two go without him and are killed in an avalanche.
As Rooster deals with his grief and his attempts to understand the connection between his dream and the avalanche, he embarks on a spiritual journey. He continues to have “dream experiences” and is visited by the spirits of his friends. These visits are always more of a spiritual encounter than supernatural, and the novel never loses is realism or believability as a result.
One of Rooster’s strengths is its complex and often troubling treatment of questions about Aboriginal identity. Rooster’s father (whom he never met) was Cree, and his mother is white. Rooster adamantly refuses societal pressures to get in touch with his Métis identity to help him cope with his struggles. Unlike many YA novels in which the protagonist’s growing self knowledge leads him or her to embrace the minority label as proof of that growth, Rooster’s stance on the importance of his racial/cultural identity never significantly changes. However, as he grows in self awareness and self reliance, he instinctively turns to practices that are stereotypically “Aboriginal,” such as when he connects with the spirits of his lost friends through a frenzied nude dance around a fire. The complexity of the way Aboriginal identity is treated in this novel makes it especially appropriate to older adolescent readers or those who are guided to think critically about the novel’s portrayal of Aboriginal cultures.
The novel is narrated by Rooster looking back at the tragic events from an undisclosed time in the future. Apart from the avalanche, the short novel is full of pain and sadness, including Rooster's increasingly dysfunctional relationship with his alcoholic mother, the suspicious disappearance of a young girl Rooster befriends, and the mystery of Rooster’s absent father. While the gritty and unresolved pain may serve to make the book seem more realistic, the narration often counters that effect by inserting foreboding statements about what is to come, as seen in the above excerpt. These frequent ominous interruptions by the future Rooster are generally unwelcome and intrusive. They pull the reader out of the story and make it seems like the author is deliberately trying to manipulate emotions.
Although Rooster borders on melodramatic, readers who are looking for emotional and painful identity struggles may enjoy this non traditional novel.
Beth Wilcox is an English and Native Studies teacher outside of Ottawa, ON, who has her MA in Children’s Literature from the University of British Columbia.
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