Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Marrow Thieves - Cherie Dimaline

Title: The Marrow Thieves
Author: Cherie Dimaline
Publisher: Dancing Cat Books (Cormorant Books, Inc.), 2017 (Paperback)
Length: 231 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction
Started: March 21, 2018
Finished: March 31, 2018

From the back cover:

Just when you think you have nothing to lose, they come for your dreams.

In a world nearly destroyed by global warming, the Indigenous people of North America are being hunted for their bone marrow, which carries the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. Frenchie and his companions, struggling to survive, don't yet know that one of them holds the secret to defeating the marrow thieves.

Cherie Dimaline is a Metis author and editor whose award-winning fiction has been published and anthologized internationally. In 2014, she was named the Emerging Artist of the Year at the Ontario Premier's Awards for Excellence in the Arts, and became the first Aboriginal Writer in Residence for the Toronto Public Library.

This books was recently named one of the five nominees for the CBC Canada Reads competition, which made me take notice since its rare that a YA novel actually makes it to that panel. Secondly, this novel features Indigenous/Aboriginal protagonists, which we never see, which also contributed to my interest. Lastly, it's won a crap-ton of awards and had a lot of positive hype overall, so I thought this would be a good choice for my students and even promote for a reading list in our department at work if it was as good as everyone claims. Thankfully for me, it really is as good as the hype claims, and I'm lending this out to my fellow teachers at work so they can read it too.

Francis, aka Frenchie, has survived longer than anyone could've imagined. He lives in a futuristic Canada (specifically Ontario) in the aftermath of a global warming crisis: huge swaths of land have flooded due to the melting ice caps, and once people managed to survive that, they went mad and began killing each other once they realized they had lost the ability to dream. Once it is discovered that the Indigenous populations have retained this ability, and that harvesting their bone marrow can restore the ability in everyone else, the hunt begins.

As they move north to escape the Recruiters, Frenchie eventually becomes separated from his family and is found by a group that's also on the run. Miigwans is the leader, Minerva the Elder, followed by several children ranging from small kids to young adults. Several years pass with the nomadic lifestyle as their status quo, when a series of tragedies force them to change tactics and try to recover some of what they've lost.

Its hard to know where to begin in regards to the themes at play in this novel. The allusions are just teeming here. The "schools" where the Aboriginal people are taken of course reference residential schools where the historical genocide of Aboriginal people took place. The fates of RiRi and Minerva brought to mind the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls that are currently being investigated all over the country. The pipelines that Miigwans mentions contributed to the environmental damage to the land after the ice caps melted are constantly protested today. Also, the significance of the bone marrow itself and correlating it to dreams signifies hope for the future, a theme that the author herself has said was a huge inspiration to write this book.

The writing is well-done and engaging. Frenchie is a realistic, likeable protagonist that struggles with his decisions and actions and fears not being able to protect his newfound family. I appreciated the diversity included in the book as well, having Rose and Ivan who are biracial.

The ending was a little bit disappointing, you get this big reveal in the last fifty pages or so and then nothing really comes from it. I suppose the author wanted to let the reader interpret how things ended, but for something that big and integral to the plot at large, I personally want some closure. That alone isn't enough to sour my opinion of the book, it's still amazing and should be required reading for practically everyone.

An incredibly important story that not only tells of our collective past but also a disturbing vision of our future. Its worth reading just for the positive Aboriginal representation, but the fact that it's a good story and well-written too makes it damn near required.

Thoughts on the cover:
The half shot of Frenchie's face would look empty on the cover if not for the slew of award emblems on the other side, so perhaps that was a stylistic choice knowing it would accumulate so many of them.

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