________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 40 . . . . June 23, 2017


Rez Rebel.

Melanie Florence.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2017.
173 pp., trade pbk. & epub, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4594-1199-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4594-1201-9 (epub).

Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-15.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4



"So … he's in a good mood," I said to my mom.

She nodded and sat down beside me, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. "Yes. I guess he thinks the Council is going to start fixing some of our problems."

"Do you think they will?"

My mom sighed heavily, looking troubled. "I don't know, Floyd. I hope so. We can't just ignore what's going on. We've had twenty-four suicide attempts in the past couple of months." "
What? No. No way. That can't be right."

"It is," my mom insisted.

I felt like I was going to pass out.
That many people had tried to kill themselves? That couldn't be true. How could it be? Wouldn't someone have come in and done something? Wouldn't we be on the news?

"No. That's impossible." I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. There was just no way it could be right.

"I know. But it's true."

"Why aren't we on the news? I mean … why isn't anyone doing anything to help us?" I'm not sure who I thought could swoop in and rescue us. But twenty-four suicide attempts in just a few weeks sounded like a national crisis to me!

"I don't know, Floyd. Your father tried to get the media to pay attention. But they had just covered suicide among young people on another reserve. They told him that the story had already been done."

Floyd Twofeathers, who lives on the rez, is the son of the hereditary chief and is, therefore, chief in waiting. He is one of the lucky ones because he's a writer and can vent his frustrations and anger through writing plays, stories, his journal. But nothing could dull the pain of the death of his best friend Aaron, or the fact that he had been the one to find Aaron's body. When five 12- and 13-year-old girls make a suicide pact and are eighty percent successful, having posted a joint letter of no hope on Instagram beforehand, everyone realizes that something has to be done. Floyd's father is not open to discussion, at least not with Floyd, but thinks he has a possible solution. Floyd and his friends are convinced that this 'solution' is exploitative and paternalistic crap; so, at the rez meeting where it is to be presented, they make such fun of it that it has to be discarded. However, the friends have ideas and, although it takes yet another near death to bring them all together, they do get started on an upward path, making use of the talents that they have and can share. Floyd starts a creative writing group, Mouse a cartooning class, the elders language classes, and Indigenous crafts. Little money required – though they did paint the community centre! – but enthusiasm galore. Would it work? Maybe. Better than the alternative.

      I am not a great enthusiast of the 'issue novel', but this particular issue of suicide among indigenous youth is not a story that 'has been done', merely because we have heard it before. It's real, and difficult, while the solutions posed in the book – salvation through the arts – may not be a major breakthrough, they were a beginning for this particular reservation. Other places may find other starting points, but the basic tenet of Florence's book – that the people on the rez need to get moving on their own initiatives, and that the rest of Canada must help support this approach rather than applying paternalistic band aids – needs to be said. She has not written the best book in the world, but it is a strong voice for self help that will keep the teenage reader engrossed throughout and will make everyone think about the issues. Rez Rebel is definitely a worthwhile read.


Mary Thomas lives and works in Winnipeg, MB, frequently in inner city and Aboriginal schools.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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