September 30 will mark the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation here in Canada. It’s an important new holiday as our country begins the difficult process of grappling with our colonial and colonizing history, and the impacts, both intentional and unintentional, of this history on the Indigenous peoples of this land.
Throughout this week, I will be providing lists of some of my favorite books by Indigenous authors. Today’s list is for works of fiction whose intended audience is young adults and adults (alphabetical by title).
The Barren Grounds, David A. Robertson (2020)
This first book of a middle grade fantasy-adventure series is a great contemporary and decolonizing twist on the classic, Narnia-esque, ‘portal story’ motif. Our two young heroes are Indigenous junior high school students in foster care. Life is ‘okay enough’, as it can be under those circumstances, but they are struggling to understand who they are and who they want to be with respect to both their cultures of origin and the dominant culture around them. Then one day, a drawing transforms into a portal into the mythical realm of Cree storytelling and they are drawn in and recruited to help its inhabitants end an eternal winter. I really enjoyed this one!
Four Faces of the Moon, Amanda Strong (2021)
This is a graphic-novel adaptation of an animated film Strong created dramatizing her process of coming to understand and appreciate her Métis heritage. It’s a quick, but worthy read.
Jonny Appleseed, Joshua Whitehead (2018)
This is a gritty and all-too-realistic story of a young, Two-Spirit man living in the ‘big city’, as he prepares to return to his home Reservation for a funeral. Memories of his childhood are juxtaposed with scenes of his current life, in which he gets by through cybersex work, often fetishizing his heritage to increase his profits. It is a hard but excellent read and I definitely recommend it.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie (1993)
A modern classic of Indigenous literature, this collection of interconnected short stories reflects on life on a reservation in Eastern Washington. All of the stories are full of humour, grit, and grace, which lightens what is otherwise a brutal and biting portrayal of life ‘on the rez.’
The Marrow Thieves, Cherie Dimaline (2017)
This is a fantastic dystopian YA novel set in a near, post-apocalyptic future when Western society has crumbled because people stopped being able to dream. The only ones who retain this life-saving ability are Indigenous peoples, who are now being hunted by the government for their vital bone barrow. A harrowing but life-affirming adventure.
Motorcycles and Sweetgrass, Drew Hayden Taylor (2010)
This near-contemporary story is about a small Indigenous town that gets an unexpected visit from a stranger. All that they know about him is that he’s handsome, rides a motorcycle, and raccoons hate him. When the stranger seems to set his eyes on a single mother, her son has to grapple with whether he is friend or foe; and, ultimately, whether he could be Nanabush himself, a trickster figure from the depths of legend.
Ragged Company, Richard Wagamese (2009)
The late Richard Wagamese was unquestionably one of Canada’s greatest storytellers. And this tale puts all his skills to use. Four good friends living on the streets and in various stages of sobriety decide to get out of a bitterly cold day by going to the movies. There they form an unlikely bond with a retired journalist and all of their luck may change for good. This is a really beautiful and heartfelt story.
Take Us to Your Chief: And Other Stories. Drew Hayden Taylor (2016)
This is a fantastic collection of short stories that put a delightful and thought-provoking twist on the common tropes of Golden Era Science Fiction. I can’t recommend this one more highly! (See my July 23 post for a full review.)
Wenjack, Joseph Boyden (2016)
This is a powerful story of the final days of a young boy who runs away from a Residential School, based on a true story. It’s very short, skirting the boundaries between short story and novella, but it makes excellent use of every page as it tells its tragic story through the eyes of the boy himself and the animals who observe him.
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