Hopes and dreams in the apocalypse
Dimaline’s dystopian novel gains mass appeal
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.
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.
Cherie Dimaline won the Governor General’s young-adult literature award for her book The Marrow Thieves.