When we discover books for the first time, it’s often as a children – being read to by a teacher or parent or another adult. And while school often progresses young readers towards the written word, one of my favourite recent developments in the book world has been the growing popularity and increased availability of audiobooks.
Listening to books has diversified the kind of books I read and the amount I’m able to read, and while all the books I’m recommending are equally good in book form – audiobooks just aren’t possible for some – I wanted to encourage readers and FOLD challenge-takers to diversify not only the things you read but also the way you read books.
Indigenous storytellers have had the most significant impact on the way I see the world – what it means to be a Canadian and reconcile with the real truth about the past. I’ve learned this through fiction, through poetry, and through nonfiction, and these four titles are ones that I think provide a range of voices. I could easily recommend Alicia Elliott, Billy Ray Belcourt, and more. Frankly, I could provide a list so long you’d be reading Indigenous titles all year, in fact (you should try that, by the way).
Whether you access an audiobook or go “old school” with a physical copy, whether you select one of these four or some other amazing stories, what I think you’ll “hear” in these four titles are powerful narratives that shed light on important topics for settlers, immigrants, and Indigenous people living on Turtle Island – narratives that challenge us to be more thoughtful citizens who take an active role in making things better.
Peace and Good Order, by Harold R. Johnson
In early 2018, the failures of Canada’s justice system were sharply and painfully revealed in the verdicts issued in the deaths of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine. The outrage and confusion that followed those verdicts inspired former Crown prosecutor and bestselling author Harold R. Johnson to make the case against Canada for its failure to fulfill its duty under Treaty to effectively deliver justice to Indigenous people, worsening the situation and ensuring long-term damage to Indigenous communities.
In this direct, concise, and essential volume, Harold R. Johnson examines the justice system’s failures to deliver “peace and good order” to Indigenous people. He explores the part that he understands himself to have played in that mismanagement, drawing on insights he has gained from the experience; insights into the roots and immediate effects of how the justice system has failed Indigenous people, in all the communities in which they live; and insights into the struggle for peace and good order for Indigenous people now.
Split Tooth, by Tanya Tagaq
A girl grows up in Nunavut in the 1970s. She knows joy, and friendship, and parents’ love. She knows boredom, and listlessness, and bullying. She knows the tedium of the everyday world, and the raw, amoral power of the ice and sky, the seductive energy of the animal world. She knows the ravages of alcohol, and violence at the hands of those she should be able to trust. She sees the spirits that surround her, and the immense power that dwarfs all of us.
When she becomes pregnant, she must navigate all this.
Veering back and forth between the grittiest features of a small arctic town, the electrifying proximity of the world of animals, and ravishing world of myth, Tanya Tagaq explores a world where the distinctions between good and evil, animal and human, victim and transgressor, real and imagined lose their meaning, but the guiding power of love remains. Haunting, brooding, exhilarating, and tender all at once, Tagaq moves effortlessly between fiction and memoir, myth and reality, poetry and prose, and conjures a world and a heroine readers will never forget.
From the Ashes, by Jesse Thistle
Abandoned by his parents as a toddler, Jesse Thistle briefly found himself in the foster-care system with his two brothers, cut off from all they had known. Eventually the children landed in the home of their paternal grandparents, whose tough-love attitudes quickly resulted in conflicts. Throughout it all, the ghost of Jesse’s drug-addicted father haunted the halls of the house and the memories of every family member. Struggling with all that had happened, Jesse succumbed to a self-destructive cycle of drug and alcohol addiction and petty crime, spending more than a decade on and off the streets, often homeless. Finally, he realized he would die unless he turned his life around.
In this heart-warming and heart-wrenching memoir, Jesse Thistle writes honestly and fearlessly about his painful past, the abuse he endured, and how he uncovered the truth about his parents. Through sheer perseverance and education—and newfound love—he found his way back into the circle of his Indigenous culture and family.
An eloquent exploration of the impact of prejudice and racism, From the Ashes is, in the end, about how love and support can help us find happiness despite the odds.
Empire of Wile, by Cherie Dimaline
Broken-hearted Joan has been searching for her husband, Victor, for almost a year–ever since he went missing on the night they had their first serious argument. One hung-over morning in a Walmart parking lot in a little town near Georgian Bay, she is drawn to a revival tent where the local Métis have been flocking to hear a charismatic preacher. By the time she staggers into the tent the service is over, but as she is about to leave, she hears an unmistakable voice.
She turns, and there is Victor. Only he insists he is not Victor, but the Reverend Eugene Wolff, on a mission to bring his people to Jesus. And he doesn’t seem to be faking: there isn’t even a flicker of recognition in his eyes.
With only two allies–her odd, Johnny-Cash-loving, 12-year-old nephew Zeus, and Ajean, a foul-mouthed euchre shark with deep knowledge of the old ways–Joan sets out to remind the Reverend Wolff of who he really is. If he really is Victor, his life, and the life of everyone she loves, depends upon her success.
Inspired by the traditional Métis story of the Rogarou–a werewolf-like creature that haunts the roads and woods of Métis communities–Cherie Dimaline has created a propulsive, stunning and sensuous novel.