Bookclub Review: “This Place: 150 Years Retold”

39351184._sx318_We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “American Girl Readalikes”, in which we each pick an American Girl book and a book that can be connected to it, however tenuous as it may be.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “This Place: 150 Years Retold” by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Jen Storm, et al.

Publishing Info: Highwater Press, April 2019

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

American Girl Book: “Meet Kaya” by Janet Beeler Shaw

Book Description: Explore the last 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous creators in the graphic novel anthology, This Place: 150 Years Retold. Beautifully illustrated, these stories are an emotional and enlightening journey through magic realism, serial killings, psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact.

This is one of the 200 exceptional projects funded through the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter initiative. With this $35M initiative, the Council supports the creation and sharing of the arts in communities across Canada.

Kate’s Thoughts

Book club opens my eyes to books I haven’t heard of on occasion. This time around, when I looked at “This Place: 150 Years Retold” I was both excited to start it, and also sad that I hadn’t heard of it before then. While short story collections in regular print form rarely work for me, I almost always like graphic novel short story collections. The stories in “This Place: 150 Years Retold” are incredibly varied and unique, and they all have a lot of things to say when it comes to the Native experience throughout Canadian history.

I really liked the range that these stories had, from historical fiction to mini biographies or memoirs to fantasy to Sci-Fi. Each story had a bit of context written before it by the author, as well as showing where in the timeline that said story fit, which I REALLY liked, especially since I have such little knowledge of Canadian history. And while the stories all took place in a different point in history, the themes are still, unfortunately, very relevant to Indigenous lives today. My favorite example of this was the story “Like a Razor Slash” by Richard Van Camp, which was a tribute and interpretation of a speech given by Chief Frank T’Seleie when speaking out against the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. Water Rights and pipeline protests have been more in the public eye in the U.S. as of late given DAPL and Standing Rock, and it really hit home that this has been an issue for decades for Indigenous communities. But that isn’t the only topic that hits home. From fishing rights to broken treaties to residential schools and family separation, “This Place: 150 Years Retold” doesn’t hold back when looking at the injustices that Canada has shown towards it’s Native population. Given that the stories are by different authors, there are many different artwork types as well as story types. The ones that worked best fell in the middle of super realistic and super abstract or more stylized, but they all served their stories fairly well.

Not all of the stories worked for me, but the fact that almost all of them did shows the strength of the collection as a whole. Definitely pick this one up if you can, because you will learn a lot as well as be moved.

Serena’s Thoughts

I really enjoyed this collection. While I won’t claim to have an encyclopedic knowledge of even U.S. history with regards to Native American stories, I definitely had very little knowledge of Canadian history. I was familiar only with a few pieces that touched on legends and mythology found in these cultures, such as the Wendigo creature and some parts of the Inuit understanding of shaman. Each story was proceeded by a brief description of the history that inspired the author, and I found all of this, plus the timeline included in each, to be incredibly interesting. Grounding each story in these mini historical lessons really helped add another layer of understanding to what the author was trying to get across.

A few stories stood out in particular. “Nimkii” tells the story of one women sharing her experience in the foster care system. It was so tragic and beautifully told. Again, this was a part of Canadian history that I wasn’t aware of. Apparently, so many Indigenous children were taken during the 1960s that it was given a name: “the 60s scoop.” I also really liked “Peggy” which tells the story of a man who was called to war as a sniper. He was a leader through that time and awarded multiple times over. This is then contrasted by his return home where he struggles to be afforded even the most basic rights to make a life for himself and his family in the country he went to war to protect.

I will say, however, that there were a few stories that I had a hard time understanding or connecting to. I liked the Wendigo story for the most part. It highlighted a lot of important factors about mental health and the contrast between law enforcement in native communities and western cultures. But I also felt like I was perhaps missing a part of this story. Maybe not, but I was unsure. There was also an Inuit story about shaman and the importance of names. This story had really amazing art work, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what the heck was going on for about 80% of this story. I even re-read it a few times. I’m hesitant to say it’s a failing of the story, as it could have just been me not picking up on things. But, all of this to say, there were a few stories that took a bit more work to really understand.

Overall, I really liked this collection. The artwork throughout was varied and interesting. Many of the stories spoke to portions of history that I was unaware of, and I think it’d be a great learning tool for anyone looking to know more about this portion of time in Canada.

Kate’s Rating 9: A powerful and varied collection of Indigenous stories that give voice to many themes.

Serena’s Rating 8: A powerful collection of stories detailing lesser known sections of Native American history in Canada.

Book Club Questions

  1. Were you familiar with any of historical events or fables that inspired these stories prior to reading this? And if so, how did the stories presented here offer greater insight into these events?
  2. There are a variety of different artistic styles used throughout this book. Which one was your favorite? Which do you think paired best with the story it was trying to tell?
  3. The last story in the book jumps into the future. How did this story succeed or not succeed at representing the world and the issues that would exist in this time?
  4. Many of these stories focused on dark events. Were there any that stood out to you as being particularly successful in delving into tough topics?
  5. This is a collection of stories based on Canadian relations with Native peoples. In what ways do these events and histories differ from the U.S.? In what ways are they the same?

Reader’s Advisory

“This Place: 150 Years Retold” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Best Canadian Aboriginal Literature” and “Graphic Novels & Comics By The Aboriginal, Indigenous and Native Peoples Of The World.”

Find “This Place: 150 Years Retold” at your library using WorldCat!

Next up is “God’s of Jade and Shadow” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

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