Awards: 2017 Governor General’s Award Winner – Young People’s Literature – Text
2017 Kirkus Prize
Nominated for: 2018 Forest of Reading – White Pine Awards
Shortlisted: 2018 CBC Canada Reads
“Dreams get caught in the webs woven in your bones. That’s where they live in that marrow there”. (p. 18, The Marrow Thieves)
“The Marrow Thieves” is the winner of the 2017 Governor General’s Award for Young People’s Literature (Text). Ontario Métis author, Cherie Dimaline, has created a plot where the past meets a futuristic dystopian world that is the product of the present generation’s environmental waste, greed and irreversible global warming: – water is polluted, the land is no longer fertile, coastal cities have been destroyed by rising oceans and earthquakes, the rain is unrelenting.
“The Marrow Thieves” explores a future with flashbacks to the past, particularly reminders of the effects of residential schools. In this dystopian world, non-Indigenous peoples have lost the ability to dream, while Indigenous peoples have retained their dreams, and a connectedness to their past lifestyle that includes ways of reclaiming the land. In this future, Indigenous peoples are once again in danger of losing their cultural heritage as non-Indigenous power groups use “Recruiters” to round them up and put them into “schools” (hospitals in disguise) where scientists try to tap into their knowledge, and find “a way to siphon the dreams right out of our bones”(p.89). On the run, moving north, and escaping the Recruiters becomes the way of life for the small groups of Indigenous people that remain.
“The Marrow Thieves” is also a coming of age novel, as fifteen year-old Métis protagonist, Frenchie, comes to grips with the loss of his family, and the only life that he has known. On the run from Recruiters, he finds a new family in a motley group of multi-generational Indigenous survivors that are making their way north in hopes of finding some forests and a return to the old ways of survival. As Frenchie matures, he takes on a leadership role in caring for, and defending, the group; he struggles with relationships and romantic feelings; he endures the strong emotions that come from both loss and joy.
Dimaline incorporates themes of resilience, death and loss, the angst of adolescence, trust, intergenerational respect and friendship, and stewardship of the land and its resources.
By explicitly referring to residential schools of the past, Dimaline makes the implicit reminder that if we don’t learn from our mistakes today and make changes, history can repeat itself.
Quill and Quire calls this novel “complex, devastating, tender, funny and a wise modern allegory”. On many levels, this novel is bound to generate debate and discussion among young adult readers, individually and in Grade 9-12 classrooms.