When the Spirits Dance by Larry Loyie and Constance Brissenden

Award-winning First Nations author Larry Loyie shares the drama of his childhood during the Second World War years. As a young Cree boy, Lawrence struggles to grow up while wrestling with the meaning of war. When army runaways threaten his family, he must call on his skills and the teachings of hie elders to keep them safe.

When the Spirits Dance is an unusual book in many ways. It is remarkably resistant to being pinned down into any of the usual marketing categories. It’s a picturebook, for one, but with long pages of text; the type is large enough to be friendly to new readers, yet the pages are so text-heavy they would (might) intimidate that same demographic. The story itself is an autobiography of a distinct portion of Loyie’s childhood (or biography, when you consider Brissenden is co-author) complete with photos of Loyie’s immediate and extended family and the environment in which they lived.

(I loved the photos – close-ups of birches in spring, even a shot of the northern lights as seen looking directly up, as well as photos of, say, the model of radio Loyie’s mother listens to the news on. The inclusion of the whole environment, trees as well as household appliances, is a very Indigenous way of viewing the world: humans not separate from nature; nature and modern technology not necessarily separate and opposite things.)

So the narrative is a retelling, as if in fiction, of eight-year-old Lawrence (Loyie)’s experiences when his father was called away to war in 1941, and his mother continued to raise him and his sisters under the restrictions of rations and the dangers of deserters. The story (and I’m so sorry for making this comparison) is in some ways like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, with a child focal character presented in the context of their family and their family’s struggles in a particular place and time, and the perspectives and worldview of that family very present. Other (non-family) characters pass in and out of the narrative, as they enter and exit the life of the child. It makes for a fairly direct narrative voice that, despite its seeming plainness, conveys a great deal of nuance, including the unspoken norms and expectations between people and of the world.

It’s beautiful.

If you like stories about ordinary life, stories about extraordinary life and times, family stories, nature/outdoors stories, historical (non)fiction (or nonfiction that reads as smooth as fiction), #ownvoices Indigenous stories, bildungsromans/coming-of-age stories, and/or Canadian fiction, here’s one for you.

Missing Nimâmâ by Melanie Florence; illustrated by François Thisdale

Missing Nimâmâ by Melanie Florence; illustrated by François Thisdale

wanisin (she is lost) Missing Nimâma is a difficult book to read without weeping, and a difficult book to write about for much the same reason: it is the story of Kateri Cardinal, a Cree girl whose mother is lost – one of the 1181+ Indigenous women who have been murdered or gone missing since […]

Howard Wallace, P.I. by Casey Lyall

Howard Wallace, P.I. by Casey Lyall

“Ow! What was that for?” “I can’t believe you made me be good cop.” (p. 71) Casey Lyall’s Red Cedar fiction nominee (2017/2018) Howard Wallace, P.I. is — — am I allowed to say this?– probably my favourite of this year’s nominees (sorry to the others! I like you, too!), and one of my all-time favourite […]

Blog Tour: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

Blog Tour: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

  “You know what I liked about your aunt?” Kiran said. “She always seemed like she knew exactly what she was going to do next. She made you feel like that it was possible, to know the right choice.” (p. 11) At the opening of Kristin Cashore’s Jane, Unlimited, Jane is grieving for her aunt, Magnolia, […]

Everyday Hero by Kathleen Cherry

Everyday Hero by Kathleen Cherry

  Red Cedar fiction (2017/2018) nominee Everyday Hero opens shortly after thirteen-year-old Alice and her dad have moved from Vancouver to Kitimat. A new town, a new school, a new start, that’s what Alice’s dad thinks. “No!” Dad’s voice was so loud I could hear it through my bedroom wall. “No, Lisa! We’ve gone through […]

Yellow Dog by Miriam Korner

Yellow Dog by Miriam Korner

I want to preface this review by noting that I didn’t tag Yellow Dog under TBW’s Indigenous or First Nations tags despite a Cree protagonist and a narrative focus on relationship and culture, because those tags are for Indigenous-created stories. Although Miriam Korner has studied Cree language and culture, and co-wrote When the Trees Crackle with […]

Presented with Pride : LGBTQ+ Books for Teens

Presented with Pride : LGBTQ+ Books for Teens

The Vancouver Public Library recently updated their Presented with Pride for Teens brochure, which now includes annotations of over 25 LGTBQ+ books for young adults, including contemporary fiction, memoirs, short stories, nonfiction and graphic novels! You can find the book list in its entirety on the library’s website. Here are just a few of the […]