Monday, January 22, 2018

The Marrow Thieves

The Marrow Thieves / Cherie Dimaline  
Toronto: Dancing Cat Books, c2017.
234 p.

This is a YA novel that I've heard a lot about, so when it came into my library I snagged it.

It's an Indigenous dystopian novel; it's set sometime in the future, a time in which catastrophic climate events have altered the shape of the world. The population has been drastically reduced, and life is difficult. Most people have lost the ability to dream - not metaphorically, but real, night time dream - and the result is not great. People are unhappy, unable to  function well, and they really, really want to dream again.

Then it's discovered that a 'vaccine' of sorts can be created from the bone marrow of Indigenous people, where the ability to dream is encoded. The problem? The Indigenous person does not survive the process.

So in this world, Indigenous people are hiding, heading north to where they can find a safer space. Our main character, Frenchie, is alone after his parents and brother are all taken away by authorities. He starts walking north, and eventually stumbles on another small group who allow him to join them. Made up of a mix of Indigenous peoples from across the country, this circle becomes his new family.

They struggle to head far enough to find a permanent place to live, unthreatened by those who want their bone marrow. They encounter many dangers, some quite serious; they build relationships both familial and romantic; they share their 'coming to' stories about how they got to this point. I found these backstory excerpts really powerful and moving. Each of them is so different and has so much sorrow and strength in their stories.

The conclusion feels open-ended as well -- there is room for more story here. The group discovers a large settlement comprising a wide mix of Indigenous people rebelling and resisting the regime of hospital/prisons. One of these rebels is Frenchie's own father, lost long before. After a few years of wandering in the woods it's hard for them to readjust to a more regimented, larger living space, but it is the beginning of hope.

There were a few leaps of logic here -- how did the wider society organize their 'hospitals' and teams of agents tracking Indigenous people down when society was chaotic? What exactly did the bone marrow provide? But here is where the willing suspension of disbelief comes in; the story carries the reader forward despite these questions.

It's a really interesting take on the dystopian trend, incorporating many ideas and themes that are based in an Indigenous perspective, with white characters not present much at all. The characters are well drawn and the set up is different from other dystopian stories, so well worth exploring.


  1. This was amongst my favourite reads for the year. I found all the backstories for the characters so engaging. Funnily enough, none of the issues you've raised in terms of specific questions left unanswered actually gave me pause. I think I was always looking at it from more of a conceptual perspective; colonial culture always managed to organize and control indigenous peoples even when there were no systems in place to do so after all! I'd never considered the possibility of a sequel, but that's a great idea. And maybe with that kind of incentive, she could get more into the world-building and answer some of those questions you've got!

    1. You know, that's a really great point about colonial culture always controlling despite any conditions. I'd like to see more of this story, still -- the characters are hard to let go off.


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