“Mitch was smiling so big his back teeth shone in the soft-light of the solar-powered lamp we’d scavenged from someone’s shed.”
And so begins Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves, one of the books up for this year’s Canada Reads competition.
The Marrow Thieves tells the story of a dystopian society where almost everyone has lost the ability to dream – except the Indigenous people. Dreams are buried in their bone marrow, and now, they’re being hunted.
It’s a standout novel for a few reasons.
First, it’s the only book by an Indigenous author to have made this year’s Canada Reads shortlist. Second, it’s a young adult novel; a genre that rarely gets literary recognition. Third, as Canada Reads theme for this year suggests, it really is the one book that will open your eyes.
Instead of shedding its young adult status, the book embraces it.
Frenchie is everything a teenage male is expected to be: loyal, strong, horny, etc. He is the perfect window into this world, initially approaching everything with a bit of naiveté, and later growing into somebody scarred and matured by what happens to him. Most importantly, Frenchie is a character who provides an opportunity for Indigenous youth to see themselves. I read a lot of young adult novels. Very few grant that opportunity.
It’s a poetic book, full of life, felt with all the senses. It is a raw world. But there is magic creeping behind aspects of this story.
Its realism is chilling. As a story about racism, where people are treated as commodities, it’s a scary world. What makes it scarier, though, is that it is not an impossible world.
The story of The Marrow Thieves is alive in the world around us. In light of all the racism and injustices directed towards Indigenous people in this country, it is necessary that we read books like these. As the author herself put it, non-Indigenous people can also read this book and say, ‘“well, this can’t happen. We need to make sure it doesn’t happen.”’
The Marrow Thieves is unlike any book I have read. It has opened my eyes. I hope it will open the eyes of others, too.