Hopes and dreams in the apoca­lypse

Di­ma­line’s dystopian novel gains mass ap­peal

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Cherie Di­ma­line gig­gles hap­pily over the phone. “Did you not have cham­pagne this morn­ing at your of­fice as well?” she jokes.

Di­ma­line had just won a Gover­nor Gen­eral’s Lit­er­ary Award for her dystopian novel The Mar­row Thieves and was cel­e­brat­ing at her pub­lisher’s of­fice. The next day she won the pres­ti­gious $50,000 US Kirkus Prize. She has also been nom­i­nated for a White Pine Award from the On­tario Li­brary As­so­ci­a­tion.

Clearly, her book has gained wide­spread ap­peal. It fea­tures a dystopian near fu­ture where nonIndige­nous peo­ple have lost their abil­ity to dream, which has led to wide­spread mad­ness. How to fix it? Eating the bone mar­row of Indige­nous peo­ples, who are un­will­ingly har­vested for the cure in mar­row-har­vest­ing fac­to­ries (not un­like res­i­den­tial schools). ab­so­lutely the best pos­si­ble out­come.

I cer­tainly never ex­pected the United States to have such a large in­ter­est in it. I re­mem­ber be­ing on the phone in the early days with the Kirkus Re­view; they were do­ing an in­ter­view. And when we were done at the end, the in­ter­viewer said, “Do you have any ques­tions for me?” And I said, “I think it’s so strange you’re call­ing me from Cal­i­for­nia (and that) peo­ple in the United States are think­ing about this book. It’s so Canadian to me and it’s so Indige­nous. There’s lots of con­cepts in it, even the ter­mi­nol­ogy around First Na­tions, it’s just not Amer­i­can.”

And she said, “Well, you know your book is very dystopian.” “Yes.” “You know who our pres­i­dent is right now?” I said, “Right.” She said, “The end of the world is ev­ery day right now.” So this is prob­a­bly why it’s hap­pen­ing. they didn’t look for­ward, they didn’t see them­selves in any kind of a vi­able fu­ture. And I thought, what if they read this book where they lit­er­ally see them­selves in the fu­ture, and not just sur­viv­ing but be­ing the heroes and be­ing the an­swer, then that’s it.

I think above all for me the book is re­ally hope­ful. Even in this hor­ri­ble dystopian fu­ture, peo­ple are be­ing hunted, there’s a ter­ri­ble out­come; there’s still so much hope in that group of char­ac­ters. They fall in love and they de­velop friend­ships, and they be­come fam­ily and they sing and they laugh. There’s a part early on in the book where Frenchie, the main char­ac­ter, says, “We are still kings among men,” and he’s walk­ing through the for­est on thread­bare soles and raggedy clothes, but he’s still got that feel­ing of great im­por­tance, of be­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary. I re­ally wanted them first of all to fall in love with the char­ac­ters and then to walk be­side them through hard­ships, through run­ning away, through be­ing hunted, through the idea of the res­i­den­tial schools, even in telling their back sto­ries and where they’d been.

If these non-Indige­nous youth can feel like they have kin­ship ties to our Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties ... these are our fu­ture lead­ers, so when they’re sit­ting at the ne­go­ti­at­ing table for the gov­ern­ment or de­vel­op­ing poli­cies, or de­cid­ing whether or not to do busi­ness with First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties, then maybe this will be one of the sto­ries that in­flu­ences their opin­ion of Indige­nous peo­ple. And they’ll feel that this is the right thing to do, to have these con­ver­sa­tions, to talk to us. We’re all in this to­gether and I want them to feel that.

To get both the hor­ror and the hope and love across I needed that im­me­di­ate na­ture of youth.

Cherie Di­ma­line

I think with YA there’s no stand­ing on a moun­tain some­where and sur­vey­ing the scene or the land­scape be­low. Ev­ery­thing is im­me­di­ate, pas­sion­ate, it’s so full of emo­tion. I couldn’t think of a more pas­sion­ate, en­er­getic nar­ra­tor than a teenage boy to take you through this be­cause he would just say ex­actly what he’s feel­ing and he would re­act to what he’s feel­ing.

Car­los os­o­rio/TorsTar News ser­viCe

Cherie Di­ma­line won the Gover­nor Gen­eral’s young-adult lit­er­a­ture award for her book The Mar­row Thieves.

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