“All the old stories are so alive that even when you hear one of them again, that story may decide to show you something new. ” – Grandpa Roy.
This is a short novel, told in verse, about Malian, a Native American girl whose visit to her grandparents on a Wabanaki reservation becomes extended. Although exact dates are not mentioned, we all know this must take place in March of 2020. Malian’s parents are in Boston, but since the reservation closes itself off to visitors she is not able to leave – which means she must finish her 8th grade year on the reservation. It’s clear that Malian loves her grandparents and her time with them – but she also grapples with the limitations of inconsistent access to internet, the loneliness of only being able to really interact with her grandparents, and how much she misses being with her parents. She manages throughout lockdown with the support of her caring family, the occasional glimpse of her sometimes-friends on the reservation, and the relationship she develops with Malsun, a rez dog. Rez dogs are free – no leashes to string them to their humans – but they are fiercely loyal to their chosen humans. Throughout the novel, when Malian must deal with any ugliness in historical or current realities, she finds comfort in her companion.
This book did a great job incorporating native stories, as well as historical facts and details that are relevant to the lived experience of Indians today. There is some child appropriate discussion of the deeply destabilizing family separation perpetrated by the American government, including how the form shifted across generations but the function remained the same. In a later chapter, the grandmother tells a personal story related to another atrocity perpetuated by the Indian Health Service. As Malian shares her story, she inspires others, including her teacher, to share their own stories about identity. The background of this novel is the pandemic and the uprisings across America in the summer of 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Again, these discussions are appropriate for children (around 9 and up, but your mileage may vary depending on your child).
As always, what Bruchac writes is engaging, entertaining and educational. I am looking forward to reading this book with my class as our Spring novel study – I think students will really connect with Malian’s feelings about virtual learning and the struggles of the pandemic. I also think they’ll grow from learning more about her life and perspective, and what better outcome can we expect from reading a book? This one is a seed worth planting.