Monday, November 20, 2017

The Marrow Thieves

I read the synopsis of Cherie Dimaline's The Marrow Thieves and was totally hooked:

In a futuristic world ravaged by global warming, people have lost the ability to dream, and the dreamlessness has led to widespread madness. The only people still able to dream are North America's Indigenous people, and it is their marrow that holds the cure for the rest of the world. But getting the marrow, and dreams, means death for the unwilling donors. Driven to flight, a fifteen-year-old and his companions struggle for survival, attempt to reunite with loved ones and take refuge from the "recruiters" who seek them out to bring them to the marrow-stealing "factories."
Isn't that great?  I lucked out too that the library had a copy! :)

So The Marrow Thieves is the story of Frenchie, the young fifteen-year old boy the synopsis mentions. At the beginning of the book, Frenchie's brother sacrifices himself so that Frenchie can get away.  Frenchie then manages to find a group of people who are fleeing northward; they take him in and he becomes part of their adopted family.  They spend half of the book fleeing northward to escape the recruiters and their new residential school system that has been created to hold Indigenous people (and later suck the marrow from them).  After a few chance encounters, which diminishes their numbers, they manage to find their way to a small rebellion.  The rebellion agrees to help them rescue one of their elders who had sacrificed herself to the recruiters so the rest of them could escape.

Now I managed to read The Marrow Thieves in a day, so what I'm going to say may seem a bit counter-intuitive: this was a slow, ponderous read.  The book sped up a bit as you got nearer the end, but it was still pretty slow going.  This was especially true after reading Murder on the Orient Express, which has a much faster pace.  I think the slow pace had to do with the writing (but I'm not positive because I've never read anything by Dimaline before so I have nothing to compare it to - plus I am not really thinking straight today - I had a bit of an accident last night which has left me with a bump on my head and headaches).

I wasn't very fond of Frenchie as a character as the book wore on.  He was a confused teenage boy, which was understandable - growing up can be confusing enough without a country hunting you down for your marrow.  But near the end he became super jealous and really confused about his feelings to the point where it was difficult to read/care. Like he literally went to hang out moping on a bed a few times while puzzling through reminded me of the first half of Mockingjay, where it was also boring to read about confused Katniss.

I should say that there were some really interesting characters like Wab.  Unfortunately the book seemed to largely forget these characters existed in the latter half of the book, just making the odd mention of them being there.

I also don't quite know what to make of the ending.  On one hand, it was a good ending which left you with the feels.  But on another hand, it is so open-ended that I don't know what to think. 

But on the plus side, the premise was really cool.  I liked the dystopian world that Dimaline gives us, especially since it is built off of global warming and wars over water, which are both very topical. And the way the residential schools are built on - they are a very sad/upsetting/angering part of Canadian history - I loved how the people in this book had overcome their effects of the past (yet hated how they were having to deal with them all over again, but in a Nazi-deathcamp sort of way). It was a very interesting look at this subject as here in Canada we are presently trying to have an era of Truth and Reconciliation.

And I have to say - I loved all the discussion of Indigenous culture.  I read a lot of fantasy and speculative fiction/genre fiction of one form or another and do not encounter books celebrating Indigenous culture; this was a wonderful treat amid such a serious book.

So where does that leave me?  I loved the idea of The Marrow Thieves and so much of what it brings to the table. But it is still a hard read thanks to its writing style.  I enjoyed chunks of the book, but really wanted to love it more than I did.  And in the end, I think it is worth reading, but it's definitely not for everyone. 

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