CM January 19,
1996. Vol. 2, Number 14

image Melanie Bluelake's dream.

Betty Dorion.
Regina: Coteau Books, 1995. 214pp, paper, $4.95.
ISBN 1-55050-081-3.

Grades 4 - 7 / Ages 9 - 12.
Review by Maryleah Otto.


"Why don't you let us take Melanie until you get on your feet?" asked Doris, the lady from the Native Family Counselling Centre.
"She's not going anywhere." Frances' voice was shaking.
Melanie covered her mouth with her hand, unable to believe what she was hearing. What had she done? She should never have talked to those women. Her heart pounded in her chest louder, it seemed, than the words she strained to hear
Doris went on. "No, I don t mean that we take custody of her. She can stay at the residence until you can take care of her."

Ten-year-old Melanie Bluelake must leave Elk Crossing, the Cree community in northern Saskatchewan where she lives with her beloved grandmother and her mother, Frances. Her father has left the family to remarry, and Frances decides to return to high school in Prince Albert in the hope of preparing for a job.

In the city, Melanie misses her friends, her school, the countryside, and, most of alI, her loving grandmother. Although she makes a new friend in Prince Albert, she always dreams of returning to the reserve. Eventually her mother is accepted into an adult retraining program, but the financial strain of supporting both herself and her daughter proves too much, and so Melanie goes back to her grandmother until Frances can finish school and find work.

This is Betty Dorion's first novel. Her career as a teacher of Indian and Métis children in Saskatchewan has helped her to convey how it feels to be "different" in an unfamiliar community. Melanie's longing for the security of home, her distrust of a new school, her tender love-hate relationship with her mother, her embarrassment over their poverty, and her resentment of a classmate who dislikes her are the strongest aspects of the novel.

Pre-adolescent girls will easily relate to these feelings. Non-native readers will glimpse the hardship of life for many people on a reserve as well as the difficulties they face when they enter a mainstream community.

The story is told in a straightforward, easy-to-read narrative without much stylistic enhancement apart from a few similes and metaphors. It's too bad that Dorion uses "lay" when she means "lie," and I'd have liked some male characters in the plot. Without them, boys aren't likely to read this book. Artistically, the novel doesn't score very high, but it deserves credit for juxtaposing native and non-native societies without distortion, and for emphasizing that it is our fears, hopes, and dreams that make us a global family. A glossary of Cree words is included.

Recommended for grades four to seven, and as background reading for the teaching of Family Studies and First Nations Societies.

Maryleah Otto is a former children's librarian with the Etobicoke (Toronto) and London, Ontario, Public Libraries, the author of four published books for children, and a member of CONSCRIPT. She has reviewed books regularly for the Ontario Library Association and the Canadian Library Association. She resides in St. Thomas, Ontario where she continues to write for children and adults.

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Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364

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