Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

“When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That’s what they inflicted on us.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 191 pages
Read from January 1, 2019 to January 2, 2019

I picked up this book on a recommendation by a friend, though if I had started reading all the Canada Reads books just one year earlier I would have come across this moving story sooner. Indian Horse made the Canada Reads 2013 shortlist but was unfortunately voted off in the first round.

Indian Horse is an all-encompassing story that touches tragic issues related to the indigenous people in Canada. The story also has wide-reaching themes with its integral connection to hockey and the protagonist’s, Saul Indian Horse, struggles with childhood trauma and alcoholism. Saul’s past starts with his indigenous roots as a young child trying to escape the prying arms of the white man trying to forcefully place him and siblings in residential schooling. His family knows the woods and has this advantage but their luck does not last forever. After being pried away from the frozen and dead grip of his grandmother he is forced into a residential school where endures severe abuse. His only reprieve from the misery and loneliness of the school is through hockey. Saul shows promise as a talented hockey player at a young age but his native roots make him an outcast against the white hockey teams he plays against, despite being better than them. As Saul grows, hockey carries him through the toughest moments in his life but things start to turn sour as Saul becomes an adult and the hockey realm becomes more abusive and physical. Unable to deal with his past traumas and personal failures Saul turns to drink. The story opens with Saul at rock bottom with him coming to an understanding that if he wants peace he needs to tell his story.

Saul’s childhood is nothing short of traumatizing as the author details how Saul and many real indigenous people in Canada were treated during the horrific era of residential schooling in Canada. Physical and sexual abuse was rampant, leaving many of the children with irreparable trauma in which its no surprise that many did turn substance abuse as an outlet. Saul’s story is tragic but the ending is nothing short of inspiring. The writing is easy to read yet remarkably crafted. Richard Wagamese is a talented author that writes from the heart, his characters are dynamic and engaging and his plot and storylines are thoughtful and concise.

This book is for every Canadian, especially those who enjoy inspirational stories on overcoming adversity, hockey, or anything related to Canadian history. What makes this story all the more poignant is that Saul’s story represents so many indigenous children in Canada with the tragedy being that so many of them don’t get the peaceful ending that Saul did making it all the more important that their stories get shared.

The Psychology of Zelda by Anthony Bean

Can we talk about how gorgeous the cover art is for this book? Made me want to read this book even more.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 256 pages.
Read from March 12, 2019 to March 20, 2019.

Ocarina of Time was it for me, the magical game that got me hooked on gaming forever. It’s a game that I still play to this day and the reason I will never part with my trusty N64 console or my 3DS. I’ve gone on to play a large portion of the Legend of Zelda series since Ocarina of Time and these games have forever become a part of who I am. Each game has marked different moments in my life while also helping to keep my imagination alive and provide a safe space for me to relax. It’s a reliable world that I can always lose myself in no matter what’s going on. Many fans of the series feel the same so it’s no surprise that there would be interesting psychology behind this beloved series.

legend-zelda-breath-wild-gold
Breath of the Wild, Released March 2017

I saw this book being promoted on one of the Zelda fan pages I follow on Facebook and was immediately captivated by the cover art. It’s absolutely stunning. Having always wanted to dive into the psychology of this game and explore my own intense interests in the game, I made a frantic search and request for this book on Netgalley.

This book is a collection of essays by psychologists and similar professionals who also have a passion and academic interesting in video gaming. Each essay broaches a different topic in the game. From the analysis of Link’s hero archetype, the reason why Link never speaks a word, the role of the notorious Dark Link, the structure of the music in the game and how it affects gamers, and the changing role of Zelda over the years, to themes of grief and depression present in Majora’s Mask, this collaboration of essays touches every aspect of the game despite its short length.

The essays are quite academic in nature but I wasn’t expecting anything less, though it seems some readers were a bit put off by this. I think it would have been disappointing if the essays didn’t have enough factual references. I particularly enjoyed the section on Majora’s Mask and the different stages of grief. This one essay alone stands out and is worth getting this book for this essay alone. Majora’s Mask was and still is unique from the rest of the Zelda games for its approach to these darker themes and the fact that it is the only game that has been made as a direct sequel (Ocarina of Time). There are some repetitive facts in relation to Carl Jung as he is discussed in at least 2 or 3 different essays. There is also some repetition with the game quote selection used in the essays as well.

You don’t need to be a psychology major to appreciate this book as the analysis is laid out in a straight-forward and easy to understand manner. Overall this was a quality read and if you love Zelda and are interested in an academic analysis of the games and their themes this is a worthwhile little read.

The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong

This is a trainwreck of an upbringing that you can’t help but sympathize with, as you berate yourself for laughing at the strangeness of it all.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from March 3, 2019 to March 9, 2019.

Lindsay Wong describes the Woo-Woo as a Chinese superstition that ghosts are the cause of bad things in your life, which unfortunately for her and mental-health-ridden family, meant an array of irrational behaviour followed by never seeking treatment. This book is in the Canada Reads 2019 shortlist after a few near misses in previous years so no doubt this book will be a fan favourite for the debates.

canada-reads-2019-joe-zee-defends-the-woo-woo
Joe Zee defending The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong during the debates taking place on March 25-28, 2019.

Lindsay and her siblings are first generation Chinese-Canadians. Her family came over from Hong Kong and settled in Vancouver which has a large Chinese population giving the city the appropriate nickname of Hongcouver. She lives in an upper-middle-class neighbourhood with her mother father, brother and sister, and for a short time her grandmother. Lindsay basis of daily dealings with her family and her life included things like swearing, name-calling, bribes with money, escaping life decisions and people with makeshift camping trips, and smothering bad feelings and “ghosts” with junk-food. Shouting matches, arguments, grudges and personal hang-ups are what Lindsay thought being a family was all about.

Despite her family having a comfortable income Lindsay wore old, dated clothes and showered once a week. Lindsay lacked the social skills to make friends but her aggression made her an excellent hockey player, an endeavour her father bribed her into to achieve some sort of Canadian-dream status.  Her father insisted that she was extremely stupid and fat as some messed up means of motivating her to achieve more along with a sick sense of dark humour. While her mother fell prey to the mental illness that plagued her own mother resulting in her being obsessed with ghosts and trying to protect her family from them. Her protection came in the form of insisting that her family never show any emotion as to not invite the ghosts in, terrorizing midnight wakings, lighting Lindsay’s feet and bedding on fire, day-long walks in shopping malls, and more.

Lindsay grew up in fear the Woo-Woo as she saw it slowly wreck her grandmother, her mother and eventually even her Aunt, whom she thought was safe. Without the means to empathize and deal with normal human situations in a healthy manner, Lindsay was in constant worry about her own mental state. Despite all this Lindsay managed to get into a university far from home where she was relieved to finally escape her family, only to find that the Woo-Woo seemed to have followed her there.

Even with these enormous hurdles to overcome, Lindsay seems to have found peace and understanding with her upbringing. Despite the dark and sometimes traumatizing events that Lindsay endured she approaches her story with a stoic and entertaining sense of dark humour. This is a trainwreck of an upbringing that you can’t help but sympathize with, as you berate yourself for laughing at the strangeness of it all. It brings awareness to the stigmas around mental illness and the barriers we still have to overcome, especially culturally, which healthcare systems could benefit from learning more about.

If you live in Vancouver, I would absolutely say this is a must-read. This is also a relevant book for those looking from some reprieve from their own families and mental health struggles.

The most moving part of this story comes from Lindsay finding the courage to write such an intimate memoir about her family, especially since she is writing from a standpoint of success in battling her inner Woo-Woo and family troubles. It’s a testament to the power of healing yourself and finding faith in yourself against the odds.