Highway is a fine novelist (Kiss of the Fur Queen) but this is a memoir, subtitled “Growing up Cree in the land of snow and sky”. Born in 1951, he grows up in remote Indigenous communities in NW Manitoba. The Indian Act declared that status Indian children MUST be sent to residential schools, so at age 6, he is flown to Guy Hill Indian Residential School in The Pas. Over the next 9 years, he describes academic challenges to learn English, but he does NOT experience institutional cultural genocide and has only a brief experience with sexual abuse at age 11. Overall, his residential school experience is positive even for a two-spirit individual, so an important perspective.
The Strangers – Katherena Vermette
Like the companion novel The Break, this book begins with a Trigger Warning. The Strangers are a multi-generational Metis family living in Winnipeg: the story focusses on grandmother Margaret, daughter Elsie and children Phoenix and Cedar. Powerful emotions characterize these women: anger, shame in addictions, feeling invisible. Reflecting on sad stories, Margaret concludes (page 316) that “only Indians, Metis … had sorrow built into their bones, who exchanged despair as exclusively as recipes, who had devastation after devastation after dismissal after denial woven into their skin”. Compelling sentiments in the setting of important and necessary stories – a must read for all Canadians.
Fifty-Four Pigs – Philipp Schott
Mystery-crime stories are influenced markedly by context (time and place) and the “amateur sleuth” (think Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher) is a special genre. This intriguing first novel is about a crime-solving veterinarian in Manitoba who uses logic and his dog Pippin’s remarkable nose to investigate when a swine barn explodes, revealing a murder victim. Totally charming.