CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 20. . . .February 3, 2017
Markham, ON: Red Deer Press, 2016.
152 pp., trade pbk., $13.95.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Chris Laurie.
ďThatís right.Ē Elder Estella turns to look at the Nationís kids. ďNow, what you need to know is that even though we were called many people, tragically, there were no longer Ďmanyí of us after the arrival of the Europeans. Out west, when they killed off our buffalo, we lost our source of food and clothing and shelter. Across the country, beginning in the east, then here, all First Nations who came into contact with the Europeans lost many people to their smallpox and TB and guns and firewater. Many homes and land, too.Ē
The east, like where Grampaís momís parents were from, the ones she never knew. I wonder if it was because of smallpox or TB that my great-Gramma ended up an orphan.
Max whispers to me, ďThatís like us.Ē I donít understand. ďWhen they had it in for my people, the Jews. We lost our homes, our belongings, and our people, too.Ē
Huh. Something like Adam, who has it in for me and, it looks like for Max, too.
Nathan, 10, is having a challenging year. He is very close to his grampa who, due to advancing Alzheimerís, moves in with Nathan and his parents. At school, Adam, the school bully, has focussed his attentions on Nathan.
During summer vacation, Nathan becomes quick friends with new neighbour Max. While out bike riding, the boys witness Adamís father beating him, with the incident giving Nathan a glimpse into why Adam harbours such anger. One day, Nathanís grampa takes the boys to a cultural museum on nearby Tsuu Tíina Nation. They are greeted by elder Estella who warmly welcomes Nathanís grampa back. A surprised Nathan learns that his grampa used to be a volunteer at the museum and created much of its wood work.
Joining in with a tour group of schoolchildren, Nathan and Max listen to elder Estellaís account of the history of her peoples and their struggles to survive during and after colonisation. As the boys follow her narrative, Max sees parallels to his grandparentsí experiences as Jews in World War II while Nathan sees echoes of these persecutions in Adamís physical and psychological abuse of him.
Nathanís grampa shares that his mother was an orphan from a First Nation in Ontario, something the family downplayed to avoid overt racism And Nathanís motherís mother was in residential school, a situation which his mom speculates is a reason she had difficulty showing affection, a trait echoed in her own relationship with Nathan.
This multilayered coming-of-age story sheds a light on how experiences are internalised and can continue to affect our behaviours for a long while afterward. Ouriouís expertly drawn cross-cultural parallels allow readers from diverse backgrounds to gain insight into the feelings and behaviours of others. Nathan and friend Max are both very relatable characters facing real-life challenges. All characters are written with dimension, including backstories that illuminate who they are and how they behave. This seemingly simple tween-novel touches on topics that include racism, illness, compassion and more.
The text of Nathan is followed by a transcript of an interview with the author.
Susan Ouriou lives in Calgary, AB, where this book is set. She is a Governor Generalís award-winning literary translator as well as an interpreter for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Chris Laurie is an Outreach Librarian at Winnipeg Public Library.
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