Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

My favourite of the five Canada Reads 2022 contenders too.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 330 pages.
Read from February 6, 2022 to February 18, 2022.

An 8-sentence review:

This is the 2022 Canada Reads winner and my favourite book of the five discussed. These two often don’t go hand in hand. This is a phenomenal story of five different Native Americans whose lives were traumatised and brought together by their time at residential schools. The dynamic depiction of the characters and their emotions draw you into their story, along with the intricacies of the suffering inflicted upon them and how it shaped their futures. While the ending is filled with hope, not all of the five get a happy ending. The characters and plot of this story are fictional but the history behind the book and the generational trauma it caused is very real and still lives on today.

This novel deserved the Canada Reads win, with the 2022 theme “One Book to Connect Us”, as this story shows a relevant and important part of Canadian history while following the journey of robust and relatable characters through their struggles. It speaks to our humanity, abilities to help others and as well as our capacity to heal, forgive, and move on. This story is an imperative example of Canada’s history and one that all Canadians and humanitarians should read.

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.

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