Author: Joseph Boyden.
Genre: Fiction, novella, fiction based on true events, native americans (Ojibwe), historical fiction.
Publication Date: 2016.
Summary: An Ojibwe boy runs away from a North Ontario Indian School, not realizing just how far away home is. Along the way he's followed by Manitous, spirits of the forest who comment on his plight, cajoling, taunting, and ultimately offering him a type of comfort on his difficult journey back to the place he was so brutally removed from. Based on the true story of Chanie "Charlie" Wenjack, the novel is a powerful and poignant look into the world of a residential school runaway trying to find his way home.
My rating: 7.5/10.
♥ They don't say it to his face because he's strong and he smells like what the colour yellow or maybe brown smells like, and he has a room in the basement that scares the life from us.
♥ I pretend to be the slow one so I don't forget my words. When the Fish Bellies with shining shoes and guns tied to their waists came to take me, Nindeded said not to speak my words out loud but only to whisper them when they couldn't hear. Daddy. Nindede. Mama. Nimaamaa. My sisters. Nimiseyag. My dogs. Animoshag. I will see you again, yes? Indian. Anishnaabe. If the Fish Bellies hear me speak my words they beat me with a stick and make me eat soap.
♥ The two brothers covered ground quickly, walking fast then slipping into a run, pushing each other the way brothers who have nothing else but each other do.
♥ When he caught up to the two brothers, no words were exchanged nor any judgment or anger as the two boys rose from their haunches and bounded off into the growing darkness, Charlie following as best he could.
How do we know this, you ask? We watched them. We, those who chose to, took the form of crows and followed them silently and swiftly, swooping by them then hovering above before diving down to land in the branches of dying trees to stare upon them, our cobalt eyes sparking to absorb the last of day's light.
♥ But now dark is almost here and I hear the Fish Belly teacher word. Don't. I catch my friends finally and my inside chest burns and I spit some red-and-white spit on the ground but this time they don't stand and disappear again. I kneel beside my friends and we huddle for heat and don't say anything but glance into each other's eyes then look just as quick away. We all say the same thing without saying it out loud. Go back now and get switched but don't get real cold tonight. Or get real cold tonight and wait for light but don't stop running to where we run. None of us wants to go back even though we now understand how cold the night is going to be. We are going to stay anyways and my inside chest begins to stop hurting as bad. Don't hurt, chest.
♥ The third time he does it I hear the match snap and then the ko ko ko of an owl somewhere not far away. The brothers say Gaaaah! and then laugh quiet and sit down on their bums.
I know what Owl says when he says ko ko ko but I don't want to tell my friends and scare them. Instead I tell them I saw a hummingbird and it's a good sign for us, but the younger brother says no, its not, because they were all supposed to leave at end of summer and if one is still here it will die of the cold.
♥ ..and then I listen, my eyes open and staring up through branches of gaa waan dag, of spruce, as both begin to breathe like waves coming onto the beach with their breath of sleep. So dark now under the night and clouds that hide stars and moon that I can only hear the mouse chewing on the toilet paper and dry grass and dried twigs from our fire, the fire that couldn't live. I'm cold. Cold. Nin giik aj. Ningiikaj I whisper as I flutter like a hummingbird to sleep.
I wake from hard shakes and in the darkness feel like I'm all by myself until the clouds pass, and in the light of Giizis moon I think I see an owl above watching me and when I turn my head slow I see the brothers curled together. Slow as I can I move closer to them and slow I curl as close to them as I am able and soon we are three curved sticks floating on the back of a great and rough and freezing river that carries us and swallows us and carries us again toward the sun morning.
♥ Charlie. His real name is Chanie. But the ones who forced him to that school can't pronounce or don't care to listen and so say it with sharp tongues instead. If we could feel pity for this one, we would. His walk before, his walk to come. Neither is easy. All he wants is home. We follow now, we follow always, not to lead but to capture. Someone, yes, will capture this boy's life.
♥ As the coldest part of North October night sets in, we who are owls gag and retch. We've absorbed the essence of our captive mice and now cough up their bones and fur. We spit what we can't keep down to the boys below, not in contempt but in honour. Nothing. Ko. Nothing. Ko ko. Nothing, ko ko ko, should go to waste.
..We who choose to be owls watch all this, blink our yellow eyes slow and cough down pellets to the three boys below. The fur and bones won't keep them warm. But the one truth we know is this slow blink of our own yellow eyes. These children we reflect in our retinas will awake at least one more morning. They will wake staring into the black of the centre of our eye and will rub their own and make sunspots, the yellow orb of light growing rounder to pull them from the ground to go.
♥ The brothers don't look at me as they rise to run, and I don't feel bad. I can feel they are no longer mad at me for what I don't know I did. I think they don't know, too. I will give them this gift when we stop and rest proper. I will give them the most perfect thing I've ever found because they wait for me and they care.
♥ The weather will change. It will change by this time tomorrow, carrying first winter on its spine.
♥ He worries us from our noose and lays us belly down upon his plywood table, takes his thin and sharp fillet knife and, pinning our head with one hand, slices with a long draw of wicked sharpness across that place where skull meets spine.
We shiver convulsions when he severs us from life and wriggle free from that coil just as the uncle whispers miigwetch and opens the pike's mouth to place small tuft of tobacco upon its tongue.Invisible on the wind now, we rise up to the poplars and tussle the dying leaves, rattling them in an honour song to one more day of life for those who gather around the blood- and scale-dappled table to watch this man prepare their meal.
♥ We watch from our web with our many glittering eyes as young Chanie stands from his sleeping place on the floor and tries to be helpful but doesn't know what to do. The only thing the school he's run away from has taught him is how to be fearful of adults.
♥ It's not the food, the aunt says. She looks to the boy who sits by the stove and stares into it at the shimmering light, the light out the window beginning to come.
Your job is to send the stranger away, the uncle says. Someone broke something in him. We don't have tools to fix it. Send him back to the school. Or find out where he lives and send him there.
♥ The girl lies in her bed and stares at this strange boy. She can see something in him, she thinks. Someone hurt him bad. Ever bad they hurt him. So bad that it is stuck inside him and he's so scared of it but more scared to let out out. She watches as the boy sits back down by the fire and she thinks she sees his shoulders quiver. She watches as he reaches in his pocket and takes something small out and studies it before he places it back in. And then he pulls out a piece of paper and traces his finger along the lines sketched on it. He folds the paper and puts it back in his pocket and stands. He sees she stares at him but she won't move her eyes. She dares him with her dark eyes to tell her why he hurts.
♥ When all the tears have left his body, Chanie walks with something as close to certainty as he knows. He's made a decision. He will follow his friends and their uncle by land to the camp and make himself useful so that the uncle will like him. And when Chanie's chest has healed some and he has earned some food to take, he will then begin the long walk down the tracks to home.
♥ Push out of the forest to where the straight and shining lines they built cut through my world. I stare, me, at these tracks. It's that time now when day wants to become night but wants to stay light, too. I can see the sun smiling as it leaves through the white legs of azaadi poplar and the furry arms of gaawaandag spruce. Sun winks at me from the way I'm not supposed to follow the tracks.
♥ The beaver family tenses to waddle as one back into their pond's safety when they hear the waking gasp of the boy, a cry of pain and of fear and, for the first time, the bawl of understanding what mortality means.
♥ Chanie is right in remembering his family lives near the railroad tracks by big shining water, but what he does not fully understand is that home is hundreds of miles away.
♥ We honk a few more greetings and garbled words of encouragement to the boy before veering away from the tracks and south to where we, at least those of us who survive the journey, will find a bit of warmth. There won't be any more warmth for young Chanie until he meets the last of us late tonight.
♥ Ever stupid, me! Ever stupid! Why didn't I roll it up in the small glass jar with the matches?> I reach my hand in my pocket and squish the map with my fist. Water between fingers. I take it out and open my fist. I stare. This is their map. This is not mine. My map is this wood and the two lines and my map is walking till I'm home. I don't need their stupid map. I throw it like a ball and the wind from giiwedinong takes it to it, to the north, and like I asked it to happen, snow starts coming down. Build a fire now, I hear Nindede say.
♥ Walk to get warm. I can feel me getting slow. I must get up. So cold and yet my body doesn't want to move. Move.
♥ They're watching me from the edge of the bush. I can tell. They been following me since the school went away from me. Me from it. What's the word fro them, for what follows me, Nindede?
Manitous. No English word for that. Where are you going, Chanie? Nindede asks. He looks so sad. Aandi ezhaayan? Where are you going?
I'm going to go, me. Giiwe. Home.
My hands shake and my feet shake and there is no more getting up. I am waabooz in his snake. I shake. Shake. Think your words. Speak your words. Head. Nishtigwaan. Cold. Gisinaa. Warm. Ningiizhooz. No. Haawiin. Yes. Eya'. Nose. Injaanzh. Eye. Nishkiizhig.
Father. Nindede. Heart. Ninde'. Father Nindede. Heart. Ninde'. Father. Nindede. Heart. Ninde'. Father. Heart. Nindede. Ninde'. Nnnnnnn.
♥ And when he stumbles and falls along the slick steel of tracks, the near-full moon splitting open the clouds above, we watch with yellow eyes, retinas glittering in that orb's light, young Chanie roll down the embankment of rocks and then stare up at our brethren that inhabit the sky.
♥ And then with a shiver, a kick, he's gone.
We must move quick, for great actor brother moon begins his final call before night's curtain is drawn, the clouds who will soon envelop him beginning their skitter. Wary, we leave the cover of trees and the perch from where we watch.
We who choose to become the mother, this greatest of the lynx, her shadow so large in waning moonlight that even the best two-legged hunter grown strong on beaver's rich tail would shake in fear if he were to witness her slink toward the boy. The little warmth left in the child crystallizes on his lips and our twitching nose lowers to breathe in the scent. Long rough tongue licks his whitening cheek, his ears, his forehead, his eyes.
And now as cloud curtains shut on this lonely performance, moon bowing to the darkness, a snowstorm squalls through the cut rocks of tracks, covering a country's shield where Chanie lies, great lynx protective above him.
♥ In the forest, we dance in a great oval that contracts and expands as breath draws in, draws out. Owl and mouse and wood tick, rabbit and pike and beaver. Hummingbird, crow, snow goose and spider. Mother lynx and Chanie we call to the centre to honour proper, and we revel in the world we've created around them. Sun rises to test the moon and moon rises to rest the sun. And still we watch. We watch the boy warm in our presence, watch him dance and eat and share his shy smile, his dark eyes turned darker and sparkling.