Evan is a young Anishinaabe man who belongs to a small community in Northern Ontario. The North wasn’t always a part of their territory, but the community is working to make it their new home, and working to bring back the language and many of the traditional ways.
When the community first loses internet and power, no one panics – this far north, it has happened before. But when it doesn’t come back on, and when they get word that the town to the south is experiencing the same conditions, the leaders have to decide how to respond, and what actions to take that would be best for the community. While Evan takes part in the discussions and decision-making, he is also thinking about his own family – his partner Nicole and their two young sons.
Things get more serious when a stranger shows up from the south on a snow mobile and wants to join their community. It’s not their way to turn people away, but can they trust this stranger? Especially when people are alarmed about the future and looking for strong leadership?
I found this book quietly gripping. It’s not action-packed, but the fate of the community is in peril and the thought process of many of the characters is compelling. Is the Chief a strong enough leader for this type of crisis? How will they decide to ensure the safety of the people? How will the people of the community react to the crisis, and to the arrival of the stranger?
Survival had always been an integral part of their culture. It was their history.
Something I appreciated about this book is that the author made sure to add details of daily life, including the changes that are made due to the internet and power failure. Without TV and internet as distraction, families spend more time together, preparing and eating meals, playing games and reading/telling stories. “The pace of their lives was slowing.” In addition, the daily ordinariness of their lives made the story seem that much more real – this imagined future scenario is all too possible.
The book also illustrates the idea that history repeats itself. Hundreds of years after the first wave of Europeans came to this country and had to learn from the Indigenous how to survive, it seems to be happening again. As settler society collapses in the south, strangers arrive and want to be taken in. From the back of the book: “… as one society collapses, another is reborn.”
I didn’t want this story to end.
Sometimes you risk everything for a life worth living, even if you’re not the one that’ll be alive to live it. — Chi-Boy from The Marrow Thieves
After reading Moon of the Crusted Snow, I wanted more. I wanted to know how the community was going to live and survive. So, I picked up The Marrow Thieves knowing that the characters in this book are also trying to stay alive and thrive as a community.
The two are very different books and stories, but they both start with a loss of power leading to chaos in the cities. They both take place in Northern Ontario, and both focus on a community of Indigenous characters (many of which are Anishinaabe) that have been driven north by the settler population (although the pace in The Marrow Thieves is faster, more desperate).
I’d been intending to read The Marrow Thieves since it was a finalist in the Canada Reads competition this year. I would love to have seen this book win. However, it has been a national best seller for months, it won the Governor General’s Literary Award for young readers, the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers, and it has been optioned for a TV mini-series.
I’m always wary going into YA books, even the ones that are raved about and win prizes. But this one is excellent and can be enjoyed by all ages.
Another thing that kept me from picking it up sooner was its label as a dystopian novel. I was worried that the harvesting of bone marrow for dreams would be too implausible for me. (The panelists on Canada Reads certainly had me worried about it.) But the hunt for the bone marrow of the Indigenous is just the background, and not at all the point of the story. The Marrow Thieves tells the story of Indigenous people in this country in a new, exciting way. The focus is on the characters, their thoughts and ideas, and the way they work/laugh/cry/love together to form a transient community. The survival aspect of the story is also gripping… I was glued to the page.
I thought about the sickness and the insanity that crept like bedbugs through families while they slept. What would I have done to save my parents and Mitch, given the chance? Would I have been able to trap a child, to do what, cut them into pieces? To boil them alive? I shuddered. I didn’t want to know what they did. And I didn’t really want to know if I’d be capable of doing it.
I found it very satisfying to read The Marrow Thieves and Moon of the Crusted Snow back-to-back and highly recommend both (together or separately).
*Thank you to ECW Press for sending me a copy of Moon of the Crusted Snow, which will be available in October.