Five Little Indians, by Michelle Good
Published by Harper Perennial, 14th April 2020
Genres: Historical fiction
Format: Kindle eBook
Trigger warnings: sexual assault, drug abuse, domestic violence
Five children, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie, taken from their families at a very young age, to a remote church-run residential school. After years of horrible treatment, abuse and malnutrition, they are simply released into the world at age 18. Without any skills, qualifications or life experience, the young people find their way to the seedy world of Downtown Eastside Vancouver. Their paths cross over the decades as they all strive to survive and find a place within this world that doesn’t want them.
Fuelled by rage, Clara finds her way into the dangerous world of the American Indian Movement. Maisie internalises all of her past pain but keeps putting herself in dangerous situations. Famous among the children for his daring escapes from the residential school, Kenny can’t stop running. Moving from job to job, trying to outrun his memories and find a life. Lucy finds peace in motherhood, but struggles with a compulsive disorder, fuelled by the years of cleaning at the school. After beating one of his tormentors almost to death, Howie serves some time in prison, before being released and trying to re-enter society once again.
This was not an easy book to read. But, having just moved to Canada and with the current exposure of the horrors of the residential schools, it felt right to read it. And I am so glad that I did because I learned a lot about this terrible part of history, of which I knew very little before. It was also very interesting to read after having just spent a few days living in Downtown Vancouver, as I recognised many of the places mentioned.
“Stepping off the bus at the park entrance, I felt as though I had been holding my breath all this time and finally, in the sanctuary of the park, I could let go and breathe easy.”
I know this is not the focus of the book, but this quote really resonated with me because that is exactly how I felt arriving in Stanley Park after having been in the crush of the city for days. I can absolutely understand the feeling of peace amongst those majestic trees and the freedom of seeing the vast seascape in the distance.
But, back to the book. Each chapter focuses on an individual character, which I loved! I really enjoyed getting various characters’ perspectives on the same event and seeing how each one reacted to their new life outside of the residential school. It was also very interesting that although they clung to one another, they weren’t necessarily able to confide in one another and unburden themselves.
I found Michelle Good’s writing to be beautifully evocative and absolutely heartbreaking in its authenticity and raw emotional power. I cannot believe that these residential schools actually existed, not even that long ago, and the horrors they perpetrated on an entire population. Stories like these should never be forgotten and this book is such an important one.
My rating: 5/5