March 06, 2018

The Marrow Thieves

Written by Cherie Dimaline
Dancing Cat Books/Cormorant
231 pp.
Ages 14+
Poisoning your own drinking water, changing the air so much the earth shook and melted and crumbled, harvesting a race for medicine. (pg. 47)
This is the world in which Frenchie is trying to survive.  After his father had gone with the Council to the Southern Metropolitan City, hopeful of enacting some change, and their mom passed, it was just Frenchie and his older brother Mitch evading the Recruiters, truancy officers seeking Indigenous people to place in their new version of residential schools.  Seems that, though all were highly impacted by the stresses of water shortages, climatic shifts and conflict, non-Indigenous people lost the ability to dream and sought out Indigenous Peoples for their bone marrow as a source for that ability.  What actually happened in the schools, though, was the stuff of rumours and nightmares.

When Mitch sacrifices himself to the Recruiters to save Frenchie, the teen heads north and joins a  group headed by a man named Miigwans and the Elder Minerva, along with teens Chi-Boy and Wab, twelve-year-old twins Tree and Zheegwon, and a young boy Slopper and seven-year-old RiRi.  Along with a new arrival, Rose, the mixed group of Cree, Métis and more, from the east coast and the west lands and everywhere in between, work to stay safe, learn "old-timey" skills like hunting and homesteading but also language which has been lost.  Each comes with their own creation story, framing their lives with the scars of their histories and the jewels of their heritage.  How they will outrun their pasts and those who seek to harm them while making some future in a world gone terribly wrong can only be told by those telling the story and dreaming.

While the environmental degradation alone could result in the dystopia of The Marrow Thieves, it is but a fraction of the agony of the world Cherie Dimaline has created.  It is a world that has gone beyond decline and into catastrophic collapse.  The heinous racism against Aboriginal Peoples coupled with the carnage perpetrated against them is terrifying but not unfamiliar.  By telling this story in a dystopian world set decades into the future, Cherie Dimaline tells much more about the past.  Still, within that horror, there is a wisdom of self and others, a pocket of compassion and understanding that might be the only hope.
"...running only works of you're moving towards something, not away. Otherwise, you'll never get anywhere." (pg. 217)
Moreover, Cherie Dimaline tells it with such depth of feeling and imagery that The Marrow Thieves becomes a lyrical epic.
Out here stars were perforations revealing the bleached skeleton of the universe through a collection of tiny holes. And surrounded by these silent trees, beside a calming fire, I watched the bones dance.  This was our medicine, these bones, and I opened up and took it all in. And dreamed of north. (pg. 9)
The accolades for The Marrow Thieves have been robust and far-reaching.  They include winning the 2017 Governor General for Young People's Literature and the 2017 Kirkus Prize; a nomination for the Forest of Reading's White Pine Award; selection as The Globe and Mail Best Book; and most recently selection for CBC's 2018 Canada Reads battle of the books. The Marrow Thieves deserves each honour and more as does its creator Cherie Dimaline for weaving a cautionary story of sorrow and history with a future that still has a sliver of reverie.

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