________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 11 . . . . February 4, 2000

cover In Search of April Raintree: Critical Edition.

Beatrice Culleton Mosionier.
Winnipeg, MB: Portage & Main Press (Peguis Publishers), 1999.
343 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 1-894110-43-9.

Subject Heading:

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Joanne Peters.

*** /4

More than sixteen years have passed since the initial publication of In Search of April Raintree. Because it has been used as teaching text in junior and senior high schools and for university-level undergraduate and graduate courses in literature, women's studies, and Native studies, the story is well known. Due to their parents' alcohol abuse, Cheryl and April Raintree, two Metis sisters growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, are separated from each other and their family. Life in a variety of foster homes is typified by neglect, ill treatment, and shame at their Native heritage. Throughout much of the narrative, Cheryl maintains pride in her ancestry, but early on, April decides to deny her Native self as much as is possible. Over the years, distance develops between the two sisters. April's marriage to a wealthy white man offers a glamorous life in Toronto and financial comfort but emotional impoverishment. Divorcing her husband brings April temporary freedom and the opportunity to repair the breach which has developed between her and Cheryl. But Cheryl's pride has failed to sustain her; now a prostitute and alcoholic, she is not the sister April remembered. And, in a central and horrific accident of mistaken identity, April is confused with Cheryl and is brutally raped by a gang of young white men. She survives, but Cheryl does not, and the book ends with April's commitment to raise Cheryl's son with the pride and stability her sister could not provide. April's search for self is over, and her life begins anew.

The ten essays which follow the re-edited text cover a variety of issues: the nature of identity as a Native person in a largely racist white culture; April's story as a document of cultural displacement from one's heritage; the legacy of cycles of abuse, violence, and denial of human rights; the story as the lived experience of foster care, alcohol abuse, family violence, and suicide; history, as written by white historians and as told by First Nations tradition; censorship and the revision of the original text into April Raintree; and the book's place in Canadian Aboriginal literature. As well, Beatrice Culleton Mosionier contributes a short essay which details some personal family history and the story's raison d'etre. With the exception of Mosionier, all of the contributors are academics, most with interests in gender studies and/or native studies. As a result, the essays are definitely high-level discourse and are intended for an audience with more than average knowledge of textual reading. At the same time, the serious attention these critical essays pay to the book validates its importance as a central text in Native literature. The book certainly deserves a place in public and academic libraries, as well as in high school collections where the book is studied in upper grades.


Joanne Peters is the teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

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ISSN 1201-9364