Hey, magical folx! This fortnight we discuss The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, a prolific author who is a member of the Georgian Bay Metis Community. Hope you enjoy and learn something(s).


Content warning for discussions of sexual violence and addiction. RAINN – Anti-sex violence assistance. Call 800-856-4619 or visit their website for assistance. 

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Follow, support, and learn from Indigenous peoples now and always! In the words of Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization is not a metaphor,” but rather requires return of stolen lands.

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Transcripts below (or access the pdf version)

“Consider Harriet Tubman’s standards for white friends and collaborators. The only officer in the Union Army she trusted enough to collaborate with on the Combahee Uprising had ridden with John Brown on Harper’s Ferry. She refused to meet with Abraham Lincoln (even when he sent a special invitation for her to visit the White House through SOJOURNER TRUTH!) because she could see that he wavered on his commitment to Black freedom and she felt he had used her people as a pawn. She had standards.
And these standards came out of necessity. For years Harriet Tubman was a fugitive. The ONLY white people she could safely associate with were people who were willing to use their privilege to literally stand between her and the law. They were active abolitionists who had already decided it was worthwhile to risk their lives, standing and livelihood in the service of Black freedom. She could not afford to be anywhere near white people who had not yet made their decision to live and die for her freedom and our collective freedom. She could not risk her life to politically educate them. She had to KNOW they were on the freedom side.”

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You can support Indigenous communities by donating to Mitakuye FoundationNative Women’s Wilderness, or the Navajo Water Project. These suggested places came from @lilnativeboy

Transcript Episode 30: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

transition [00:00:14]  [whimsical intro music plays].

kelly [00:00:14] Hello! And welcome to JK, it’s Magic. A bi-weekly podcast in which two bookish besties discuss mostly YA fantasy through the lens of intersectional feminist criticism. Why? Because critique is our fan girl love language and because talking about books is pretty magical.

jessie [00:00:30] I’m Jessie.

kelly [00:00:31] And I’m Kelly.

jessie [00:00:33] And this week, we’re discussing The Marrow Thieves by Cherri Dimaline. In the story we follow French and a group of indigenous people on the run from people who want to steal their bone marrow as indigenous people are the only people who can dream in a world destroyed by the effects of climate change.

kelly [00:00:54] Maybe it’s appropriate to start with a little bit of a caveat that neither of us are indigenous. And so all of these discussions and critiques and comments are coming from, you know, our specific positionalities, right, our situated knowledge’s or ignorance more like–.

jessie [00:01:12] Yeah.

kelly [00:01:12] –of indigenous cultures and history.

jessie [00:01:17] Yeah,.

kelly [00:01:17] And obviously call us in if we say shit that we shouldn’t have.

jessie [00:01:26] Yeah.

kelly [00:01:29] And then also, it seems relevent to honor and acknowledge all of the indigenous land and water protectors who are fighting all the time and have been for a long time, like in the Amazon, with the Australia fires, with all of it with like pipeline construction in Turtle Island, with the telescope. on Mauna Kea, like all of this is happening all the time right now. Colonialism is alive and real. And I think we’re talking about this book that imagines otherwise. But in that– in this context that we’re in right now.

jessie [00:02:12] OK. Do you want to add anything else?

kelly [00:02:14] Do you want to talk about the organizations added to the show notes?

jessie [00:02:18] Yeah, sure. So we recently added an addition to our show notes, including ways that you can help support indigenous communities, taking into consideration that we are on stolen land. These suggested organizations came from @lilnativeboy who you can follow on Instagram and Twitter. They are the Mitakuye Foundation, Native Women’s Wilderness and the Navajo Water Project. So if you’d like to make a financial donation to any of those organizations, that would be amazing.

kelly [00:02:51] And there will be plenty of other indigenous advocates and organizers whose various social media we’ll link to in the show notes. So definitely give them a follow as well.

transition [00:03:01] [bright, whimsical music plays]

kelly [00:03:07] Initial reactions. You want to go first?

jessie [00:03:10] Yeah, sure. I thought the writing was amazing in this novel. The descriptions were great and I really got a good sense of the world we were following the characters through. Considering that, you know, there’s a lot of different things at play here. That said, this wasn’t my favorite book. The pacing was a little slow, which may have been intentional. And we’ll talk about that a little more in “kill your darlings”. But there wasn’t a lot happening in the fat fantasy aspect was a lot lighter than what I was expecting slash hoped for. It’s kind of almost like a travel story, which kind of makes sense as to why it might not be like my fav. But overall, the writing was really good. I thought the characters were great. What about you?

kelly [00:03:53] I thought this novel was slash is exquisite. I agree with you that the prose is incredible. It really brings the world alive and same with the characters. It– I agree with you that the pacing is certainly different. It’s slower. It seemed more methodical and measured. And I do think that that’s intentional. And we’ll talk about that later. But it reminded me of– I mean, it makes sense that it’s won a bunch of awards, right? It’s not like your typical gonna to stay at the New York Times bestseller like Top of the list, because it’s not about like swashbuckling action and adventure in the same way that, like, I don’t know, that like a Leigh Bardugo book is, for example. Right. It’s it’s intervening in a totally different way. So I think this would be a really great book for like book clubs at a library or something like I think that you could really have this book be like part of a curriculum, you know?  of indigenous future isms or, you know, talking about indigenous activism and advocacy currently. I think that that– this book really does lend it– it would be a… A really great text to have in the classroom or with, you know, younger readers who probably haven’t learned a lot about indigenous history because our school systems actively erase it.

jessie [00:05:16] Yeah, for sure.

transition [00:05:17] [bright, whimsical music plays]

kelly [00:05:22] Time to talk about worldbuilding in “through the wardrobe”.

jessie [00:05:26] So this book, unlike a lot of the books we’ve read for the podcast previously, takes place in our world, but it’s set in the near future where climate change has wrecked the world as we know it, causing water sources to be poisoned from overuse and from corporations, earthquakes and constant rain. So the worldbuilding is a little different here because we are literally walking through the wilderness a lot of the time and sometimes happened upon places where there were– um like the former hotel, I think is like one of the bigger places that we happened upon in the story. So it’s a little bit different than I think what we’ve normally read. It almost gives me like “the quiet place” vibes. Obviously, they don’t have to be quiet in this novel because of, like, monsters or like not monsters that can hear sound in the same way as that movie. But kind of similar to that where were– it’s a lot of like walking through the wilderness and setting up camps and that sort of thing.

kelly [00:06:23] And on the run from from like a predator basically–

kelly [00:06:26] Right.

kelly [00:06:26] –who’s trying to kill you.

jessie [00:06:28] Yeah, exactly.

kelly [00:06:29] I think this is the first post-apocalyptic or quasi post-apocalyptic novel that we’ve read for the podcast, right?

jessie [00:06:38] Mmhmm.

kelly [00:06:38] So I think that that is interesting to point out that it’s basically just our world fast forwarded chronologically and it doesn’t really even seem that fantastical. And maybe that’s why it doesn’t seem like there’s as much magic or fantasy going on, because it’s really not that much of a stretch to say that, you know, our environment collapses and massive pollution happens. And then environmental destruction prompts mass waves of migration from low altitude areas. Right? Sea level rise.. all of this environmental carnage like where the land is spewing the like oil and the natural gas out from it, right? So–

jessie [00:07:20] Mmhhmm.

kelly [00:07:20] There were some really beautiful passages in the novel where it’s describing how the land is basically expelling colonialism and capitalism. And it’s like an earth– the Earth’s reaction to it. It kind of reminded me of um, this is going to seem like a banal comparison, but this is… Something similar happens in “Aquaman”.

jessie [00:07:39] Oh [laughs].

kelly [00:07:42] Which is probably why I couldn’t finish the film, because I totally identified with the villain, quote unquote. [Jessie chuckles] And which was– it was like some Sea King or whatever, but was using the power of the oceans to wash all of the trash and pollution back up onto land–.

jessie [00:07:56] Oh.

kelly [00:07:57] –so the humans could see what they’ve done.

jessie [00:07:58] Yeah. It doesn’t seem that bad.

kelly [00:08:00] No, exactly! So it reminded me of that.

jessie [00:08:03] That makes sense.

kelly [00:08:04] It’s kind of the earth being like, “yeah, we’re done taking this”

jessie [00:08:10] For sure.

kelly [00:08:10] It just seems like the logical conclusion of what’s happening right now.

jessie [00:08:14] Yeah, yeah.

transition [00:08:15] [spellcasting sound]

jessie [00:08:19] We see the importance of oral history in this story. All of the history of the indigenous people has passed on from person to person through stories, which causes a loss of history when the older people die and when some are separated from other indigenous people. We see this with Mig. And oh…what’s the old lady’s name?

kelly [00:08:38] Minerva.

jessie [00:08:39] OK. We see this with Mig and Minerva. They’re telling all the kids who are in that group the stories of their past. But we also see how this gets muddled a little bit because there are different groups of indigenous people. And so the the kids, French included, are only getting the stories of the of Minerva and Mig that they know. So we kind of see people coming from different groups of indigenous people who might not be getting their histories. Which was a really sad thing to think about because everyone’s, you know, getting separated from their families, getting separated from their people.

kelly [00:09:09] Right.

jessie [00:09:11] But we see like a big importance put on oral history and they would, like, come together and tell their stories every night, which I thought was really interesting.

kelly [00:09:19] Yeah, I I think you make a good point about it being, like, woven into the routine of the group. Right? So though– it was– everyone knew that sometimes you listen to “story” or there’s listening… It’s almost like a curriculum happening, getting passed from the elders to the younger people in the community. Which I think is really… I mean, which the novel clearly signifies is incredibly important because their identity isn’t as indigenous people, isn’t just like in their bodies, which it like it is embodied that way with the bone marrow. Right? We have it metaphorized and concretized. Indigenous identity manifests that way in the novel. But also we see the importance of like, temporally, and the sharing of these traditions and these stories.

jessie [00:10:07] Yeah, agreed.

kelly [00:10:09] And we also see this recuperation of, like, quite literal language, like indigenous languages. There’s a beautiful. Lemme find this quote. It’s a… French at one when they meet the two people who turn out Travis and the other one, Lincoln, who turn out to be like working for the recruiters.

jessie [00:10:30] Mm hmm.

kelly [00:10:31] Towards the end of the novel, he talks about– French talks about hearing these– them speaking in. Ashinaabe, I think, and talking about like if he weren’t so worried about uh, you know, the whole situation, that he would have taken the words and like, put them in his pocket, right? So there they seem. The language itself is very sacred. And we see that happen at the end of the novel with Minerva’s singing–

jessie [00:11:00] Right.

kelly [00:11:00] and how it destroys the residential school. So all of this is woven into the world building, which I think is really, really incredibly done.

jessie [00:11:08] Yeah.

transition [00:11:09] [spellcasting sound]

kelly [00:11:13] Another thing I would say is that unlike any of the other novels we’ve read for the podcast or maybe any that I’ve read ever… But the natural world, like the actual biosphere, the plants, the animals, that seems to assume like a protagonic, central role in the novel. We spend so much time as readers with passages about the landscape and the relationship to… Like the humans’ relationship to surviving in the wilderness, like surviving as indigenous peoples have or had for thousands and thousands of years, right? But we don’t really see these stories. It’s like. I think because of the privilege of specifically my situation, like when I go and spend time out in nature, it’s like, oh, fun camping. Not like out of necessity for survival. And that just like shows how constructed our capitalist society… it really does isolate us from nature.

jessie [00:12:13]  right.

kelly [00:12:13] But I guess, did you notice that in the novel about how like prominent of a role nature had?

jessie [00:12:20] I guess I thought of it more as when I was younger I would– not by choice, for school– read, like survival novels, almost like “Hatchet” [by Gary Paulson].

kelly [00:12:30] Oh, yes!

jessie [00:12:31] A little bit like. What is that book by Golding? By like Henry Golding?

kelly [00:12:36] Lord of the Flies!

jessie [00:12:37] Yeah, Lord of the Flies where like the environment really becomes a protagonist in that like with out that… It becomes a protagonist in that you’re trying to survive against it. Like the, the environment is not actually a villain, but because we don’t spend time in those spaces, it becomes villainous to us because we don’t know what to do with it.

kelly [00:12:58] Right!

jessie [00:12:58] So I kind of saw it in that similar way. But obviously, in this novel, that’s a little bit changed.

kelly [00:13:05] Radically, wouldn’t you say?

jessie [00:13:07] Yeah. Yeah. In that, you know, the Earth is kind of trying to deal with the effects of all the things we’ve done to it. So it’s almost like we were the villains and and the Earth is, you know, suffering because of our actions from climate change and those sorts of things. So I kind of saw it as like survival novelist– novelist-y. You know?

kelly [00:13:30] Yeah. I like the comparison you make to Lord of the Flies because I think it provides a really good juxtaposition to see, like, how different these two perspectives are.

jessie [00:13:40] Mmhmm.

kelly [00:13:40] Like the white settler perspective of nature is something to be dominated and conquered. Very catal– capitalist, very colonialist, which makes sense coming from like Anglo American writers. And then from an indigenous perspective with more of like a land-based epistemology that doesn’t see humans as separate from the land and it doesn’t become something to be conquered. It becomes like something that actually sustains life, which it is! So it just kind of it does reveal that juxtaposition, I think does reveal how radically different the approach to the natural world is.

jessie [00:14:16] Yeah.

transition [00:14:23] [bright, whimsical music plays].

J & k [00:14:23] Wands out!

jessie [00:14:25] Let’s discuss all things magic.

jessie [00:14:28] I would say there wasn’t a ton of magic happening in this story. The magical elements consist of the bone marrow of indigenous people being used as a cure to allow others to dream, an ability that others have lost. I [pause] Was… I felt this this novel was more along the lines of science fiction because of the whole bone marrow thing going on within this story. So it was kind of strange to me because this has been on my TBR for a long time to have seen it on so many fantasy lists. It felt a little strange to me because it does feel a little more science fiction, although science fiction-lite, I would say.

kelly [00:15:08] Yeah. Maybe we can just like, say, speculative fiction and then not have to… that avoids our problem of having to define science fiction or fantasy, right? I don’t I don’t agree with you on this one. I would say that. There is a lot of magic, but it’s not manifesting in the way we’re used to seeing in YA fantasy like the most of the like, you know, big five publisher books that we read.

jessie [00:15:37] Mm hmm.

kelly [00:15:38] What I think is um cool about this novel, is that it…to your point about “is it science fiction, is it fantasy?” I think that this author really fucks with those categories, which are kind of like proscribed, I guess, those genre categories and…. Because the magic is both part of the spirituality of the novel, the like indigenous relationship to ancestors and elders and like histories through the land and blood and traditions like the language, Right? So, like all of this seems like the novel sees all of that as magical, at least to me. And um like the ability of Minerva’s singing to disrupt something that seemed like magic, and then there also towards the end of the book… We’re talking about how um when Minerva died or when the deer was dying, after they were have a hunt, they wanted to make sure that it died with its dreams intact so it had enough magic to reach another life for another like plane or relm or whatever. So I think that the magic is there, it’s just not we don’t see it deployed as often. And also, I think it’s interesting to note that, like, the magic is something… especially with the dream ability, like the most explicit manifestation of magic. It’s kind of like a… We don’t really see anyone’s dreams. We don’t have, like, dream sequences, which I thought that that maybe would been interesting. That would’ve been cool. But. But it’s also what they have to hide. It’s because of that magical ability they have to run and hide. So there is this like weird dissonance between, hey, we’re magical, but we also can’t show that we’re magical because that is what makes people want to harness down and kill us.

jessie [00:17:44] Yeah, I think it’s difficult because some of the magical, like quote unquote, magical things seem spirituality based. And so I’m hesitant to call any of those kinds of things magic.

kelly [00:17:56] hmm.

jessie [00:17:58] And especially when you think about the fact that not not just the ability to dream gives them away, but like the way that they look gives them away. Unless they’re someone like Mig’s partner who was– obviously they realized he was indigenous, but, you know, he’s half indigenous. So that, like, means something else. You know, you can kind of hide a little better. So I think for me, it’s like. I think it’s hard because as the reader, when I pick up a book, I want to know what categories it fits into so that I know what– what I’m getting myself into. And that’s not to say that authors can’t bend gen– genres in any way. I just think, like for me, as a book that was marked as fantasy, this is not what I was expecting. And I think that kind of changes your perspective on what you think you’re going to be reading and like how you walk into the book and like the mindset you go into it with. And so for me, marking this book as fantasy felt like a little like, I don’t know, like Oh well, this isn’t what I was expecting. So I would have maybe gone into it with a different mindset. You know what I mean? Like for from the readers perspective. I think those kind of categorizations can be kind of important and like mind altering, you know?

kelly [00:19:15] Yeah, that’s a fair point.

transition [00:19:16] [spellcasting sound]

kelly [00:19:20] And on that note, did you see on Twitter– it was a long time ago– about like the thread that was circulating about the pace of Y.A. novels and how it’s just like, frenetic and unrelenting?

jessie [00:19:31] I don’t think I did see that .

kelly [00:19:33] I’ll dig through it and try and find it. It’s probably like a needle in a haystack, lost cause situation.

jessie [00:19:37] Right.

kelly [00:19:38] But it said something to the effect of like, we’re kind of desensitized or we’re maybe, like, over- exposed maybe to action and adventure in YA as like a genre.

jessie [00:19:52] Mmhmm.

kelly [00:19:54] And this novel did make me think like, oh yeah, maybe because if we’re expecting, like, this unrelenting pace of twist after twist after twist, and um… like to be pitched up and down and up and down on this like affective roller coaster ride that like “Children of Blood and Bone” is, for example.

jessie [00:20:14] Right.

kelly [00:20:14] And that is really great. And it’s like a fun reading experience. But it is like you sit down and in two days you’re done. And that didn’t happen for me with this book at all.

jessie [00:20:25] Right. Right. Yeah. I can see where that could be like… mmm…that could be difficult. I think the hard part is that if you can’t keep your reader interested, they might not continue with the book. And so if we want people… And especially because like when you think about these books are written for teens and because we want them to read the books, like, you kind of need that fast pace to keep them interested. So I think it can be a kind of a difficult balance. And it kind of depends on what people like to read. We like to read fantasy, and those books are very fast paced. But like when I read “The Fault in Our Stars”, I’m like, this book is kind of– there’s not a lot going on here. So I think there is kind of that difference between, like realistic fiction and like science fiction or fantasy books where we expect the pace to be a little faster, which is why we pick those books.

kelly [00:21:16] Right.

jessie [00:21:17] So I think I think there can be kind of an expectation of the genre as well.

kelly [00:21:26] Mmhmm. Maybe we can move all of that into “kill your darlings” upon editing. [both laugh].

jessie [00:21:30] Yeah. Yeah.

transition [00:21:31] [bright, whimsical music plays]

kelly [00:21:37] Now we’re going to talk about conflict, villains, and good versus evil in our segment, “Get Me Kylo Ren!” Speaking of which, we both have seen the last Star Wars.

jessie [00:21:48] Yes. “Rise of the Skywalker.”

kelly [00:21:50] That’s right. And we got Reylo! Spoilers!!

jessie [00:21:54] [laughing] No Reylo spoilers!

transition [00:21:54] [spellcasting sound]

jessie [00:22:01] Residential schools play a big role in this novel. So in this novel, it’s a place where indigenous people are taken to have their bone marrow stolen from them, which causes them to die. And we see Mig and Minerva kind of talking about the history of residential schools in small doses, about what they have been in the past and how they were used to teach, quote unquote, you know, indigenous people the way of the white people, I guess, really. [laughs]

kelly [00:22:35] Mm hmm. Yeah, there is that obviously a long history of forced assimilation and adoptions and we’ll link to some resources in the show notes so that you can listeners can read more and learn more about this. There’s also some good podcasts that we can list– that I can put in the show notes of some histories of this, what’s essentially like cultural genocide. I thought that was really wonderful how the author decided to both concretize and metaphorize the like robbing of your identity. So it’s like the bone marrow. It’s like literally they have their indigeneity sucked out of them, and what’s special about them [to the white people, at least] sucked out of them through their physical bone marrow. And it just seemed like a– a parallel to residential schools, literally, people going there and having their indigeneity again, like taught quote unquote out of them and learned out of them.

jessie [00:23:40] Right. Yeah.

transition [00:23:40] [spellcasting sound]

jessie [00:23:45] I would say that the recruiters are probably the big villains of this story. We don’t really have– they’re kind of like a faceless villain, almost, which in a way can be more terrifying because you never know who’s going to be out to get you. But they are the people who kidnap indigenous people and take them to the residential schools. And they play a big role in that that’s who the group is always on the run from or trying to be on the lookout for.

kelly [00:24:15] Absolutely. And I would say, would you agree that like this Specter, even behind the recruiters, the novels employing this villain that is like white supremacist settler colonialism, basically. like that is the main villain, is the entire structure.

jessie [00:24:31] Yeah, I would say so for sure. And I was talking about this book with someone else, and I thought it was– I thought it was a strange choice to make that all the bone marrow had to be taken from the person which, you know, eventually killed the indigenous person. Because medical work with bone marrow is something that is possible. That’s something that we do now for like bone marrow transplants, like for people with, I think, leukemia. But they made a good point that it was kind of similar to what white people did…. the colonizers did saying, like, “we want some of your land, no, we need all of your land.” Another way that, you know, we could have like– not we– white people could have asked for like a smaller amount, or even asked, and instead decided to take everything.

kelly [00:25:20] That’s a really, really good point.

jessie [00:25:22] Yeah. Which I thought was like a really they didn’t read the book, but I just thought that was like a really good reading of… of how that works, because, you know, it’s not like I think science wise, we can make more bone marrow from a small amount. That’s what they do when people need a transplant. So I thought that was a good reading of the ways in which colonizers will take everything that they possibly can.

kelly [00:25:47] Absolutely. The indigenous people then just became one more resource resource to be plundered.

jessie [00:25:52] Mm hmm. Exactly.

kelly [00:25:53] Yeah. I’ve been at this decoloniality conference for the past four days or so. And a word that was getting thrown around a lot that I hadn’t heard before was “extractivevist” like to describe the economy and to describe settlor relationship to land.

jessie [00:26:07] Right,.

kelly [00:26:09] And that is exactly the ethos here. Right. We don’t need all of it, but it’s so wasteful. It’s so extractivist.

jessie [00:26:16] Yeah, exactly.

kelly [00:26:18] And another time that that came up just in a different form was when they came upon the abandoned hotel or lodge. And French, I think, makes some sort of comment to the effect of “who needs this much room?”

jessie [00:26:31] Right.

kelly [00:26:31] “Who wants as much space?” Like, really?! It is! You do kind of realize the like people are definitely living…If… Well, what’s the like statistic that if everyone lived like the American middle class, we would need four Earths?

jessie [00:26:46] Oh, I have no idea.

kelly [00:26:47] Or something? Yeah, I’ll find it and put it in the show notes. But. That’s absolutely the difference of– you can see very starkly how this is different, the relationship to resources and land is so different between the white settlers and then the indigenous people.

jessie [00:27:04] Yeah.

transition [00:27:04] [spellcasting sound]

kelly [00:27:09] So in addition to the recruiters, we get some indigenous people who work with the recruiters who they essentially like trap and find other indigenous people to then send to the residential schools. And these people who are working with the recruiters do so in exchange for food and other supplies like clothing or whatever. And I could see this… Obviously, I can’t speak to this, nor am I really going to level much of a critique, but I think that we could see this as a commentary on how oppressive structures co-opt certain individuals from minoritized groups and then use them to replicate oppression upon said minoritized groups. Right? So we have this like an example of complicity in a really explicit form.

jessie [00:27:54] Yeah, there’s a really good episode of Code Switch that talks about black Republicans. And they do a good job talking about kind of like similarly how they will, you know, the Republican Party will take a conservative black person and kind of use them in this way. Yeah, so I think that I thought that was a good way to show that not, you know, everyone from a group is not going to work for the benefit of everyone else in the group.

kelly [00:28:26] Right. An irl example that I’ve heard or read critiques of from or heard critiques from indigenous people is the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is like the main branch of the U.S. federal government that liaises with these different nations or tribal nations. So I can, I’ll link to some articles about that.

jessie [00:28:50] Yeah. And I think as a as a minority, like we do see this a lot where we’ll see someone from our specific group, and obviously I can only really speak to black people, but, um, we’ll see from someone from our group who were like, “what the fuck are they doing?” They’re working against the interest of all of us. Like Amarosa! [laughs] Like those kind of things. Or you’re just like, wow, like. But it makes it seem as if. Like, we can be taken and used for whatever means the white people need in this novel did a good job of showing how that might work in the end, as in a situation where, like, survival depends on it.

transition [00:29:32] [bright, whimsical music plays]

jessie [00:29:37] Onward, magical listeners. Just as one does not simply walk into Mordor one does not simply read fantasy without talking about representations of race, class and gender. This is our segment about power and bodies and how they relate.

kelly [00:29:52] We’re going to start with race. Although I think particularly with Indigeneity, the line between like race and ethnicity is really like blurry. And I’m not really sure how productive it is to like yo yo between terms or pick one term over the other. So anyway, that’s just a caveat.

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jessie [00:30:14] I think this story doesn’t set the reader up to view the work a strictly indigenous people versus all other races necessarily, as there are indigenous people who work with the recruiters to help kidnap other indigenous indigenous folks. There is an us-versus-them mentality, but it’s more of a mentality of not trusting people outside of the family you’ve created. So we see that even when French and Mig in the group meet up with other indigenous people, they’re very hesitant to trust them because they obviously know that some indigenous people are working with the recruiters. So I think as opposed to so much of a minority group versus white people, it is kind of an” us, we’re on the run. Our family is who it needs to be protected versus the people who would be out to get us.”

kelly [00:31:05] Mmhmm. Absolutely. And only at the end of the novel, when Isaac– when we see Isaac come– when they come upon Isaac in the clearing with the other do we see, like, cross racial solidarity basically. Because there are the two black women who used to work in the school who rescued him–

jessie [00:31:22] Right.

kelly [00:31:23] –And then we also have a white person.

jessie [00:31:25] Oh, do we?

kelly [00:31:25] Who’s the only white person in the whole novel. I don’t think he’s even named, which is cool. Like,.

jessie [00:31:31] I don’t even remember them.

kelly [00:31:33] It happens at the very, very end. And he makes– here, I’ll find the quote. Isaac’s… so everyone from the community, French, etc., that whole family at this point is already like with the council, French has found his dad and they’re going to like send out a quote unquote, welcome party to these people who are camped about a mile away. And French realizes it’s Isaac and sees the other people and then is like, what’s going on with these other people that you’re with? They’re not Indians.

jessie [00:32:02] Ohhhhh.

kelly [00:32:03] Basically is what French’s saying. And. So. Clarence, one of these other elders from the council has been talking to them and says “they’re allies. They’re real allies. They put their lives on the line. It’s not just talk. You heard them.” So they’re actually that shows that allyship cross racially is means like, oh, you actually have to put yourself in danger.

jessie [00:32:28] Yeah.

kelly [00:32:28] Which is. Yes, totally agree.

jessie [00:32:32] oh Because there’s that one guy who also works at the residential school. Kind of he’s like they’re inside person.

kelly [00:32:37] That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. So maybe there’s two white people.

jessie [00:32:39] Yeah. I don’t know. I was just like no white people at all. [laughs].

transition [00:32:43] [spellcasting sound]

kelly [00:32:50] We pretty much see the elimination of class society.

jessie [00:32:54] Yeah.

kelly [00:32:55] Which is really cool!

jessie [00:32:57] –yeah we–

kelly [00:32:57] No, go ahead.

jessie [00:32:59] We kind of see, I think the juxtaposition of like what class was like previously. Like when they’re at the lodge, like it’s, you know, very opulent. And but then we also see, like in the beginning, French and his brother, like in a tree house, so I’m gonna guess like a middle class kind of thing. So we kind of see how that maybe started. But then obviously, obviously, we move into everyone traveling in the wilderness and like sharing supplies and taking turns about who gets something new, like when they find something like that, sort of thing.

kelly [00:33:36] Sharing a baseball cap, right?

jessie [00:33:38] [laughs] yeah.

kelly [00:33:38] Tree and Ziguan share their baseball cap and switch it back.

jessie [00:33:42] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So we do kind of see like this is what I was like before versus like this is what it’s like when we don’t have time to worry about those kinds of things. [laughs]

kelly [00:33:53] Yeah, that’s a really good point that– I guess we get like the specters or the ghosts? The haunting of what class society or like upper middle class life was like. And then we see this total reversion out of necessary– out of necessity–.

jessie [00:34:09] Right.

kelly [00:34:09] –to a radically different way of living life with the land rather than like in spite of it.

jessie [00:34:15] Right. And maybe that’s an analogy to what we should be doing. So like when we work with the land and we work with what nature has provided us with, like, you kind of see a breakdown of class systems.

transition [00:34:34] [spellcasting noise].

jessie [00:34:34] Let’s talk about gender!

kelly [00:34:36] Let’s!

jessie [00:34:38] There is a sense that there is some separation of duty within French’s group based on gender. But it seems that they all seem to take turns doing all the duties. I didn’t really understand, like, why there was that separation. So, like, the boys would go hunting and the girls would stay with Minerva and do like camp things like cooking and whatever else they did there. But we actually never see French do any of those things. So I didn’t really understand why we’re getting that separation by gender in that situation. But it did seem like everyone took turns doing all the things which I thought was good.

kelly [00:35:13] Mm hmm. And also, it seemed that there was… So maybe there there was some, like, separation of roles by gender. But there was a dignity to all of the labor that was being performed. Right?

jessie [00:35:28] yeah.

kelly [00:35:28] Like it was the tone was as reverential for describing Wab taking care of Minerva and washing her and dressing her and taking her to go to the bathroom and feeding her, like that– You could tell that that work is really, really valued, that care work is incredibly valuable and we almost had more attention paid to those sorts of tasks than we did to hunting or scouting or– we didn’t see as much of that. We knew it was happening because like the you know exposition would mentioned that Chi Boy was the best scout and was going out scouting or French was climbing a tree. You know?

jessie [00:36:08] Yeah.

kelly [00:36:08] So that’s one thing I liked. I think it really does upend gender is that there’s. It’s not about equal opportunity to do the same. Like it’s not… [pauses] A) it didn’t really seem like that gender was particularly important in the sense of like, “Oh, you can’t go hunting because you’re a girl, Rose.”.

jessie [00:36:34] Right.

kelly [00:36:34] You know? It wasn’t like that. Or French “No, I don’t feel like cooking or I don’t feel like cleaning up” because that’s like women’s work, quote, unquote. There was– it didn’t seem like the labor while it was both jet, it was maybe gendered differently, but it wasn’t like devalued because of that gendering, which is something I do think happens in our contemporary reality, right? That care work of I don’t know whether it’s taking care of someone who is disabled or elderly or young people or whatever like that is seems less valued in our society, whereas that was not the case at all in this novel.

jessie [00:37:11] Yeah, I would agree with that.

transition [00:37:12] [spellcasting sound]

kelly [00:37:16] I’d say we also get some alternative models of masculinity. Mig. French, mainly Mig and French, who they don’t conform to like toxic forms of masculinity promoted by capitalist white supremacist settler colonialist patriarchy. And I really appreciated that. It was just more… all these characters who are gendered as male, like seemed more like thoughtful. Not methodical necessarily, but like not violent, I guess, in the same way. And we did see that juxtaposed with Lincoln, for example, he is seen as abusing substances and then kidnaps Riri and they both die.

jessie [00:37:59] Yeah.

kelly [00:37:59] Falls off the cliff or whatever.

jessie [00:38:02] Yeah, yeah, I would agree with that.

transition [00:38:04] [spellcasting sound]

kelly [00:38:07] Reading Wab’s coming-to story was pretty tough. She was the one who she was a runner, right? And she talks about her mother being an alcoholic and always drunk. And then when there wasn’t any. And then also. Being a sex worker.

jessie [00:38:25] Yeah.

kelly [00:38:26] Right? And then how her clients would sometimes assault Wab. And then we talked about how her mom then went to intravenous drugs when there was no more alcohol left, and so then Wab had to start taking care of herself, making her own money, getting her own food. Not making money, really, because money doesn’t exist in the society anymore. Yeah. Running errands and doing those things. And then she got assaulted and like tortured by this guy and then she went on the run. So I think that was the most explicit story of gendered violence that we saw in the novel.

jessie [00:39:06] Yeah, I would agree. And um I think speaks to the stories of indigenous women who have been, you know, kidnaped and, um hurt, uh sexually and physically. You know, we see this  happening–

kelly [00:39:29] –murdered…

jessie [00:39:29] In our modern… Yeah. Yeah. We see what’s happening in our modern times. So I think it was a good, a good way of looking at these things could happen in this futuristic society where… Where, you know, food is scarce and those sorts of things, but they’re also happening. Happening now. So. There’s a book that I got. Now, I don’t know what it was called, and I haven’t read it yet. But it is about the, you know, the violence against indigenous women. So I’m really looking forward to reading that. We’ll put it in the show notes once I figure out what it’s called. [laughs]

kelly [00:40:07] Put plenty– There’s going to be plenty of resources in the show, notes listeners.

jessie [00:40:11] Yes.

kelly [00:40:11] If anything, this is the beginning of a conversation and not the end.

jessie [00:40:16] Right. Exactly.

transition [00:40:17] [spellcasting sound]

kelly [00:40:21] Wanna talk a little bit about coloniality? I mean, it’s been woven throughout the entire episode and necessarily. But… what do you want to say?

jessie [00:40:31] Yeah, I think we see settler colonialism take center stage with this story as we see through the history of indigenous people, their land being stolen, treaties broken, and then eventually the theft of indigenous bodies. I think this is something that obviously has happened in real life. But I think we see this woven throughout the entire story, even sometimes in like little snippets of, you know, this was our water and then it was stolen from us. This was the treaty we made and it was broken. And then eventually that turning into like being put into residential schools, both in the past and in the current time in the novel. So coloniality plays a big role in this story. So I don’t think it can be like neglected and left out on its own just because it’s it’s such a big part of the story.

kelly [00:41:22] And I think it does permeate all of our conversations that we’ve been having the whole time about the world building and about ability and about race and about gender and… Yes. Definitely.

transition [00:41:33] [bright, whimsical music plays]

kelly [00:41:41] Finally, it’s time for “Shipwrecked”, a segment about asexuality, sexuality, sex, romance and relationships. Sometimes we take liberties and do some shipping of our own. The affective ties that are most important in the novel seem to be chosen family.

jessie [00:41:58] Exactly.

kelly [00:41:59] And you spoke already a little bit about that protection and the solidarity that comes from surviving and caring for one another through a sustained period of time. And we see like the fallout, what happens when members of the family die or are lost. So those seem like the most….mmm… I guess the affective ties the novel is most invested in exploring seemed to be those. Llike who are you surviving with? Like who are you–.

jessie [00:42:29] Yeah,.

kelly [00:42:30] Who are you taking care of? Who’s taking care of you? And how are you like trying to keep living together.

jessie [00:42:39] Yeah, and I think the novel is kind of saying, you know, the bonds that we create with a chosen family are so much… I’m hesitant to say more important, because I think people don’t like that. But for me, in my mind, like, there’s so much more important than the ones with our born into family because we chose them. And we even see at the end that French is willing to leave his dad, who he hasn’t seen in, you know, however many years it’s been, I think 12 years or something. …With the rest of the group and like that is more important to the survival of all of them than being with the family he was born in to. So, yeah, I think there’s a lot of emphasis placed on chosen families in this novel, which is something I really appreciated.

kelly [00:43:25] Like to add onto what you just said. Another thing that’s interesting is that French’s dad honors French’s decision. And he’s like French– French tells him, “I have to go. And his dad is like, I know. That’s just like–.

jessie [00:43:38] yeah.

kelly [00:43:39] –support, solidarity, understanding, compassion and, you know, connection. Even though we’re not physically together, like, I know you support me and you know we’re in this together.

jessie [00:43:49] Yeah. Some good some good parenting figures in this story.

kelly [00:43:53] Yes!

jessie [00:43:54] Which we don’t often get in YA, honestly. Every once in a while we do, but for the most part, you know, they’re they’re either the villains or they’re not around, really. So, this was a good show of that and maybe some of that is because, you know, a lot of YA is white.

kelly [00:44:16] Yeah!

jessie [00:44:16] Like in minority communities, there’s a lot more emphasis placed on, you know, parenting, that sort of thing. Yeah.

kelly [00:44:23] Yeah, that’s a that’s a really good observation that probably that like the individualist ethos that we stick through so much, YA has is like a racial tie.

jessie [00:44:34] Because when I think of, like “Children of Blood and Bone” like Zéile’s father is like, you know, he’s a good parent figure. In “A Dream so Dark” or whatever. That’s not the first one. But, you know. Yeah. But Alice’s mom is like a good parental figure.

kelly [00:44:50] Yes!

jessie [00:44:50] Those are both books. Or in “Labrinth Lost”, you know. So I think it’s it’s you know, white kids really want to push back against their parents, and that’s fine. [both laugh] But I think it comes through in the stories that we’re reading.

transition [00:45:04] [spellcasting sound]

kelly [00:45:09] There was no heteronormative…, hetero… heteronormative agenda imposed on a novel, which is great because heteronormativity is a shitty colonialist imposition. No, thank you. Same with, like, gender binary. Right. There are plenty of indigenous like communities that have had different gender expressions for a long time. And so we saw Miigwans and Isaac. Their relationship is really portrayed with a lot of tenderness, I would say.It’s honored really as this, like, beautiful partnership, because we see those like I Dellec more, I like narrations that make Telles when he’s selling his coming to story. Right. And talks about Isaac, you know, with this… [pauses] …I don’t know…. just like a like a longing, which makes sense because he thought that he lost him and then the part about him burying or pouring out all of the different like vials–

jessie [00:46:14] Yeah.

kelly [00:46:15] –in the river of, like, people’s essence or bone marrow or whatever, and how he kept Isaac close to his heart. Oh my God. So, so good.

jessie [00:46:22] But then it turns out Isaac is alive, which I feel like I should have seen coming. But I was like. Of course he’s dead, like… [laughs]

kelly [00:46:28] Yeah!

jessie [00:46:29] But he wasn’t!

kelly [00:46:30] It was  effective! Right? The book made us all, including the characters, think that Isaac was dead. And then Isaac comes back. But it didn’t seem like deus ex machina to me. It like felt like a beautiful moment of repair.

jessie [00:46:42] Right. Same with finding out that French’s dad was still alive.

kelly [00:46:46] Yes!

jessie [00:46:46]  I was like, maybe his dad’s going to still be around or his brother, like one of the two. But it didn’t seem like… It didn’t seem like out of nowhere, you know what I mean? Like…

kelly [00:46:57] Right.

jessie [00:46:58] It worked for this story.

kelly [00:47:00] Yeah. And I think it’s part of it is because we’re like rooting for something good to happen to these characters.

jessie [00:47:06] Yeah.

kelly [00:47:06] Holy shit. So much misery and death and violence is inflicted upon them. And so….

jessie [00:47:13] Yeah,.

kelly [00:47:13] I think it made those moments of like where French and Rose get together, you know, even more even sweeter. Or when Isaac comes back or when French is reunited with his dad or when they have like a beautiful moment with Minerva in the family, right? I think it makes those moments even more important and special.

jessie [00:47:33] Yeah, I would agree with that.

transition [00:47:34] [spellcasting sound]

kelly [00:47:38] We obviously see the importance of elders in this novel, I mean, it’s everywhere.

jessie [00:47:46] Yeah, agreed.

kelly [00:47:48] A different orientation towards, and relationship between authority figures and people who don’t have as much authority because it doesn’t seem as like, again, extractive. It’s more– it seems like the authority figures and the elders are more respectful of the people who they are, you know, in charge of. So it seems like more of an even exchange rather than as punitive and hierarchical and Top-Down as what we’re used to, I guess.

jessie [00:48:19] Yeah. And I think some of that comes from the fact that the the younger people realize that, like, their whole history is tied up in the elders. So, like, they get that history from them. But I think that maybe the elders also know, like our future is in the younger people.

kelly [00:48:33] Totally.

jessie [00:48:33] And I think that’s sometimes difficult for ol-, you know, for both older people and younger people to see in each other. But I mean, I like this view of, you know, aging or whatever. It was good.

kelly [00:48:47] And about how we can really– we have a lot to give each other.

jessie [00:48:52] Mm hmm.

kelly [00:48:52] It was, yeah. Definitely a model of like generational repair, which I think is not surprising that it’s from an indigenous author at all or from indigenous perspective and community. And then also really necessary. As much as I like, you know, get my rocks off with boomer memes, like, [both laugh] you know? Like I do think that there are really substantive critiques, especially of, like, white boomers.

jessie [00:49:18] Yeah.

kelly [00:49:20] But, man, our planet’s dying and like we pre–, we need all hands on deck, right?

jessie [00:49:27] Right. Exactly.

transition [00:49:28] [bright, whimscial music plays]

jessie [00:49:33] Now we’re going to talk about writing style, narration, characterization, plot structure, and basically whatever else comes to mind in a segment called “Kill Your Darlings.”

jessie [00:49:43] I felt like the reader is really led into a false sense of security in the first half of the novel, in the same way that French in the group are. Because while they’re attempting to make their way north, we don’t see them encounter other people with the exception, with the exception of the first encounter we see with French and his brother. And then all hell breaks loose and we see quite a few encounters which lead to, you know, Minerva’s death and kidnapping, RiRi’s death. And I think as I was reading it, and it might be one of the reasons that I felt like it was really slow is because nothing’s happening.

kelly [00:50:19] Mmmm.

jessie [00:50:19] And because of that, I was I stopped expecting things to happen.

kelly [00:50:24] I see.

jessie [00:50:26] But I think it’s really well done in that I think it was purposeful because I think it is meant to lead us to believe that they’re gonna get there. It’s not going to be a big deal, like maybe some small things will happen, but they’ll get north to wherever it is they need to go there and everything will work out fine. And then, you know, it kind of does, but it really doesn’t.

kelly [00:50:50] Mmhmm. I agree with you that the pacing is intentional.

jessie [00:50:54] Mm hmm.

kelly [00:50:55] And I talked about it a little bit about this earlier, but it does seem like the– specifically this content deserves a slower, more methodical engagement with it.

transition [00:51:07] [spellcasting sound]

kelly [00:51:10] And then also just shout out to the incredible prose in this novel. I want to read a few passages so listeners can get a taste. Are you down with that?

jessie [00:51:21] I’m ready.

kelly [00:51:23] OK, here’s one from, um. The beginning of the novel… Page…. Where am I? Never mind. Not from the beginning of the novel, from the end of the novel, when he and when French and Rose are in the forest together and they find real water for the first time, with a fish it! So this description of the scene, “It was a thin brown brook pulling itself like a ribbon across the curve, cut into the rock just ahead. It didn’t rage or wave or crash. It bled from somewhere up the hill and carried itself with quiet grace across the tortured ground over the glassy rocks, feeding bundles of greens with tenacious roots, some pulled from the split earth and dangling under the cool surface like old ladies dipping vein bruised legs into a pool.” It’s from page 157 to 158. It’s just so good! It’s so beautiful! You can tell that there is a lot of attention and time and care that went into describing, like all these descriptions of the natural world that we have, which is a ton of them, since everyone’s outside the entire novel.

jessie [00:52:40] Yes. Yeah. It was really, well, well-written novel I. Yeah, yeah, that’s all.

kelly [00:52:46] It was a lot more poetic, I think, than what we’re used to getting in YA.

jessie [00:52:50] Yeah.

transition [00:52:50] [bright, whimsical music plays]

kelly [00:52:59] Recommend if you like… post apocalyptic novels, for sure. There’s a lot of that in here.

jessie [00:53:05] I would say if you like travel stories, there’s a lot. Try it. Travel going on here. Climate change fiction, which I think I had a professor call Cli-fic or something like that?

kelly [00:53:14] Cli-fi!

jessie [00:53:14] Cli-fi, that’s what it is. Like if you like those kind of stories or survivalist stories. I think if you are into survivalist stories and you’ll probably really like this. Books like The Hatchet, that sort of thing. Like I didn’t another were four those books, but apparently there’s a bunch of them [laughs].

kelly [00:53:35] That’s a lot.

jessie [00:53:35] yeah. I didn’t know that mosquitoes scene like really freaked me out as a kid, so I did not read any more of those than I had to. [kelly laughs] But I think if you like if you like survivalist stories, then you’ll like this one as well.

transition [00:53:47] [bright, whimsical music plays]

jessie [00:53:52] Before we end, it’s time for “real talk.” Did reading this book make your perspective change in any way, or did it make you interrogate a concept system or trend you hadn’t before?

kelly [00:54:03] Yes. [laughs] I have find it – hold on.

jessie [00:54:08] Okay.

kelly [00:54:10] Oh, OK. This is from the chapter “Word arrives in black” and it’s on page 193. And during the scene, Clarence and Mig are talking to French. They’re talking about um how the earth has been destroyed. And Clarence says, “The closer you get to the coasts, the more waters left that can be drunk. The middle grounds? Nothing. It’s like where the bomb landed and the poisons leached into the banks. Everything’s gone in all directions till you get further out.” So we see this like epicenter of destruction. And then a little farther on, Clarence says, “All we need is the safety to return to our homelands. Then we can start the process of healing.” But French confused asks, “how can you return home when it’s gone? Can’t you just heal out here?” Mitt– so this is like still a quote – “Mig and General gave each other knowing looks and Clarence was patient and his answer.” This is Clarence speaking. “I mean, we can start healing the land. We have the knowledge kept through the first round of these blasted schools from before that when these visitors first made their way over here, like hunt, like angry children, children throwing tantrums. When we heal our land, we are healed also. We’ll get there. Maybe not soon, but eventually.” I just thought that’s a really beautiful message of hope and repair and healing that we need at this moment in time.

jessie [00:55:37] I don’t have anything. [laughs].

kelly [00:55:38] That’s fine. [both laugh]

transition [00:55:38] [bright, whimsical music plays]

jessie [00:55:47] All right, action item?

kelly [00:55:49] We kind of did them at the top. So, yeah, I would say maybe listeners, if you have the time and space, would urge you to take a little bit more of a deliberate look through the show notes and click on the links, read the articles. There– I’m gonna– I’ll also recommend the podcast “All My Relations. It is by two indigenous feminist advocates, artists. One of them’s an academic and one is a photographer, I believe. And the episodes are incredible, especially recommend the one about “can our ancestors hear us?” that is about language recuperation. And then also one about the episodes about blood quantum that are really good and demystify that whole concept, which really does, no pun intended, bleed into a lot of like contemporary political discourse, like Elizabeth Warren being like, “no, I’m Native American because of my 23 and me,” and things like that. So those seem like pretty important things to learn about. Yeah, that’s what I would say. Follow some– follow indigenous advocates and organizers online, support indigenous resistance and resurgence around the world. And remember, you’re on stolen land.

transition [00:57:12] [spellcasting sound]

kelly [00:57:15] Thanks for listening to “JK, it’s magic.” We’ll be back in two weeks for a discussion of “A Dream So Dark” by L.L. McKinney. [pauses] Do I keep going?

jessie [00:57:25] Yeah! I think so!

kelly [00:57:25] I’m out of practice! [laughs] As always, we’d love to be in conversation with you, magical listener! Let us know what you think of the episode. Anything we missed or just say “hi” by dropping a line in the comments or by reaching out to us on Twitter or Instagram @jkmagicpod. You can post or tweet about the show using the #criticallyreading, and you can contact us via email at (jkmagicpod at gmail dot com).

jessie [00:57:50] You can subscribe to “JK, it’s magic” on the podcast app of your choice, and we’d really appreciate it if you would rate and review the show and spread the word to other rad readers out there. If you’re interested in supporting J.K., it’s magic, you can make a One-Time donation to us on Ko-fi. You can also support us monthly on Patreon in exchange for a mini-sodes, bonus eps, swag and much more.

kelly [00:58:11] Kelly is recording on Cheyenne, Ute, and Arapaho Land. Jesse is recording on Peoria, Kaskaskia, Peahkashaw, Wea, Miami, Mascoutin, Odawa, Sauk, Mesquaki, Kickapoo, Potawatomie, Ojibwe and Chickasaw Land.

kelly [00:58:32] Until next time, stay magical!

transition [00:58:34] [outtro music plays]

kelly [00:58:48] Thanks for listening to JK…. Oh, no! Do we have to…? Yeah, yeah. Sorry! [laughs] Fuck.

jessie [00:58:51] [laughing] I was like, what do you mean do we have to?! Yes, we have to.


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