From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle

If you’re looking for an uplifting and inspiring read to get your through the COVID-19 quarantine, this is it.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 451 pages.
Read from March 24, 2020 to March 31, 2020.

Well, finishing this book wraps up all five of the 2020 Canada Reads finalists for me. I’ll post my final thoughts on the five next week. From the Ashes will be defended by George Canyon when the debates resume after the COVID-19 virus settles. Now, let’s talk about the amazing story of Jesse Thistle…

“My words belonged to me, they were the only thing I had that were mine, and I didn’t trust anyone enough to share them.”

From the Ashes is the epitome of inspiration. Jesse Thistle overcame some of the worst things a person can endure; parental abandonment, drug addiction, homelessness, sexual assault, trauma, identity loss, and dealing with severe chronic physical pain (*spoiler* he almost loses his leg). Jesse Thistle is of Metis and Cree descent but he didn’t always know that. Jesse was raised by his grandparent’s after his mother mistakenly left him and his brothers in the care of his drug-addicted father. While Jesse was eventually able to reunite with his mother, he never did see his dad again. Jesse’s grandparents were firm but loving but it didn’t stop the trouble that Jesse eventually found himself in. After getting caught with drugs at 19, his grandfather accused him of being just like his dad and kicked him out of the family home and barred him from ever returning. Jesse left his home in Ontario and began his homeless life in Vancouver where he abandoned his best friend before ending up back in Ontario. Jesse was homeless for most of his young adult life. While most of us have fond memories of our 20s and early 30s, for Jesse it was a matter of survival, nearly giving up, and then making the choice to live again.

Jesse is now happily married to a woman he knew from his school days who helped him achieve his dream of getting a university degree after he got clean. His studies led him to explore his own family and heritage which then helped him pursue his career in academics. Jesse is now the Assistant Professor of Métis Studies at York University.

If you’re looking for an uplifting and inspiring read to get your through the COVID-19 quarantine, this is it. I mean, if a story like this, during a time like this doesn’t put life into perspective for you I don’t know what will. Imagine being a nobody. Having nobody, no home, no clean clothes, no money, no personal hygiene…  You can’t, there is no way to truly envision it unless you’ve lived it the way Jesse had. Jesse’s story is surreal, making it all the more shocking that too many Canadians, especially ones of Native or Metis descent, currently live the way he did, most of whom don’t escape the tragic lifestyle.

Mr. Thistle’s writing is highly engaging, succinct, perceptive, and humble. Feats that many accomplished authors are not able to do, which makes it even more amazing to acknowledge the fact that Mr. Thistle wasn’t always exceptional at reading or writing. It wasn’t until he started working on his GED while serving time in prison that he began to improve. Despite it being a worn-out saying, it doesn’t make it any less true to say that Mr. Thistle is the embodiment of being able to do anything you set your mind to.

Even in Jesse’s darkest moments, he held onto some form of code and personal honour in that he refused to deal drugs for the money he needed for his addictions and never took advantage of people he got close to. A rare quality even for those who are not addicts.

Mr. Thistle includes some of his own poetry snippets between the chapters and photos of himself, from childhood, mug shots, as well as family and wedding photos, adding to the heart-tugging emotional depth of this novel.

michif-boy-lead
Jesse Thistle – Photos – CBC Canada Reads

Out of all the Canada Reads books I read this year, I can safely say that I enjoyed this one the most. Is this the one book to bring Canada into focus? It touches on topics that have been making waves in Canada such as Native American rights, homelessness, drug addiction, sexual assault, and trauma. The fact that this story has a positive outcome also gives it an edge against the others in meeting the theme. We will have to wait and see what happens when the debates resume. The Canada Reads debates have been postponed until further notice due to the COVID-19 virus.

Stay safe and healthy, readers!

 

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

“The world is hard,” his mom had said. “You need to be harder.”

4/5 stars.
ebook,  249 pages.
Read from February 1, 2020 to February 11, 2020

This is book number two of the five for me  in the Canada Reads 2020 contenders.  I best get reading a bit faster if I want to have all five read before the debates in March! I have always wanted to read Eden Robinson, in fact, I’m pretty sure one of her books was part on my required reading list in one of my university classes back in the day and I still didn’t get around to reading her (oops)! At least I’m making up for it now. 

Kaniehtiio Horn will be defending Son of a Trickster in the debates this March. I adore Kaniehtiio Horn so it will be interesting to see how she does in the debates.

Kaniehtiio Horn

Son of a Trickster starts off in a seemingly normal, albeit tragic and raw, fashion as it details the coming of age of a young First Nation teen named Jared. Despite his fraught and complicated family life he does try his best to do the right thing and has a genuinely good heart and tends to get by with his sarcasm and fantastic pot cookies when shit hits the fan. This part of the story really depicts some of the First Nation’s experiences and traumas while also drawing you into a gripping story. There is also a whimsical and magical aspect to this book that is briefly mentioned in the first chapter that you almost forget about until the last quarter of the book.

When Jared was just a boy, his family move away from his one grandmother because she believes him to be the son of a trickster, a wee’git. Jared thinks little of the incident as he grows older and it’s never brought up again, even after his parent’s separation. However, as Jared’s family life starts to unravel he also begins to see things, things that presumably shouldn’t be there. At first, he starts to brush them off as bad trips and vows to come off hallucinogens but they continue to happen. His mom and nana finally reveal a secret to him that they’ve kept and despite their differences, they might be his only hope in protection as these ‘hallucinations’ become more physical and severe.

I loved the first 75% of this book. Jared’s character is immensely funny, gentle, and resilient, however, when the trickster aspects of the book started to take shape the story started to feel a bit disjointed to me. However, having said that, there are some beautiful and poetic sections of writing that Robinson includes in the opening of some the chapters and during some of Jared’s visions.

“Close your eyes. Concentrate on your breath. Remember that you were not always earthbound. Every living creature, every drop of water and every sombre mountain is the by-blow of some bloated, dying star. Deep down, we remember wriggling through the universe as beams of light.”

‘Son of Trickster’ – Eden Robinson

Apparently, this book was meant to be the first in series, which, I could see panning out quite nicely, especially since the magical sections of the book felt like they should have been expanded on more. What I loved about this book was the First Nations experience that it so gracefully touched upon. I felt for Jared and wanted better things for him and his family and was bothered and intrigued by the circumstances that he had to face. The character work on both Jared, his mom, as well as Sarah is amazing as Robinson managed to highlight their traumas without drowning you in it.

Is this the one book to bring Canada into focus? It definitely sheds light on the First Nations experience in the same way that We Have Always Been Here highlights the queer Muslim experience in Canada. Both prominent and important issues but which one will come out on top in the debates? Especially when there are three other books to contend with. Guess we’ll have to wait and see!

The Break by Katherena Vermette

A story of strong women on the path from trauma to recovery.

But even in sleep, her ghosts all hunt her down, wanting her to look at them, remember them.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 269 pages.
Read from March 8, 2017 to March 14, 2017.

Huzzuh! I am nearly done all the shortlisted Canada Reads 2017 books. I think is one of the best selections of books in the last few year (I have been following since 2014) and I know that it is going to be hard for me to select my favourites for the winner. At the rate I am reading I will have all the books read and reviewed before the debates kick off so I will post my thoughts on what I think the top five should be.

It’s winter in Winnipeg and during one cold night a Métis mother named Stella looks out her window to witness a violent assault taking place. Afraid for herself and her children the only thing she can do is call the police. From here the story shifts between narrators, all of whom are connected somehow to the victim of the assault. From the Métis police officer who is not sure how to cope with his Métis identity,  to members of Stella’s extensive families, along with their personal histories and individual traumas and pain that they have all had to deal with that are unique to their heritage and upbringing. The narratives string together the real story of the assault that Stella witnessed outside her window and how traumas can change and affect a whole family or community of people overnight.

This book deals with so many tough issues. It discusses with rape culture, Native American and Métis specific cultural issues, as well as topics of identity, family and community. The Native American and Métis characters all struggle with perceptions from the outside world about their race and identity and they come from varying degrees of dysfunctional families. The dysfunction details the realities of growing up poor and different and the tragedies of those that are stuck within a rigid system of expectations.

The women in the book have all dealt with one trauma or another and are intensely strong and resilient, making the book ending overwhelmingly positive and hopeful. While there is no assurance that everything will end up being okay, it emphasises the support of family, community and specifically on other women and how essential that is to heal from the trauma the each individual has faced in the novel.

This book is a phenomenal contender for the winner of Canada Reads 2017. With the question: What is the one book Canadians need now? This book fulfills in answering this question many times over with the multiple topics it breaches. This book outlines rape culture, which is massively important with our neighbours below us stirring the pot politically on feminist topics, as well as discussing and bringing light to the importance of how missing and murdered Native American women are being viewed and treated negatively and are not given the the serious attention that their cause deserves. Additionally, the books ends with hope. That through supporting each other, our backgrounds, identities and communities that a better tomorrow can be attained.

The quality of the writing and character development is superb as the author depicts the realities of living with trauma. I would not recommend this book to people who are sensitive to trauma, especially sexual related traumas, as it does not spare details. It could however prove to be a healing tool for those that are ready to approach it. For everyone else, this is a phenomenal book of trauma and recovery.