Title: Red Wolf
Author: Jennifer Dance
Genre: YA Historical
Opening lines: ‘…There was a time long ago, when wolf and man lived wild and free, when the white-skins lived far away across the salt water…’
Blurb: Life is changing for the Anishnaabek Nation, and also for the wolf packs that share their territory. It is the late 1800s and both wolves and Native people are being driven from the land. Starving and lonely, an orphaned timber wolf is befriended by a young boy named Red Wolf. But under the Indian Act, Red Wolf is forced to attend residential school far from the life he knows. And the wolf is alone once more. When courage, love and fate reunite the pair, they embark on a perilous journey home. But with winter closing in, will they survive, and if they do, what will they find?
My thoughts: RED WOLF is a heart-rending and enthralling story set in Canada in the 1800s about the impact of the Indian Act of 1876 upon the Indian culture along with the compulsory residential school system for Indian children. Red Wolf is just five years old when he is removed from his parents and everything that was familiar and taken to a boarding school for Indian children only. The main focus of the school is to assimilate the children by forcing them to lose their own culture. Sadly most of the people who ran these schools under the blessings of their church were less than Christian to the children.
“…There was barely enough space for a small boy to turn around, and if he had stood upright he would hit his head on the ceiling. Everything in his body yelled move, run, get away, be free. But he was trapped like an animal in a cage. Even more than the ache in his cramped limbs, Red Wolf ached for his mother. Tears came just at the thought of her. He rocked back and forth, clutching his knees to his chest. He was utterly alone, utterly abandoned…”
From all over Canada children were taken away from their parents and most of them never saw their family again. The children had their traditional names taken from them, were banned from using their native language, told to give up their spiritual beliefs for the one true faith, in fact, they had to give up anything connected to their cultures. The children are told that they are ‘dirty savages’ who must learn to conform to the ‘superior’ white culture. Red Wolf is renamed George, and given a number, which is what he is mostly called at school. As the years pass, Red Wolf slowly ‘becomes’ George, and learns English, the Christian religion and receives only cruelty from his teachers. For a couple of years, he returns to his parents for two months in summer, but as time goes on, he feels less and less welcome in his old life, which corresponds with feeling less and less like Red Wolf and more like George. When he is told that his father has died, his mother is a drunk and his baby sister taken into care he finally realises that he doesn’t fit anywhere, not with his traditional native family nor with the white community. Once he turned 15 he was evicted from the school with no support in the outside community. Red Wolf was despised by the whites and had lost his links to his people.
Red Wolf’s story is not the only one being told, there is also the story of Crooked Ear a young wolf who is orphaned when his family is shot. He bonds with Red Wolf as Red Wolf’s family is part of the wolf clan. When the boy is put in the school Crooked Ear has to learn to live in the wild but keeps an eye out for the boy. Whenever Red Wolf leaves the school, Crooked Ear is there for him, and the wolf becomes the one link to the old traditional ways, and the key for Red Wolf to come back to his traditional roots when he can.
RED WOLF is a well-told story aimed at young teens upwards, the boy is form of ‘Everyman’ for the treatment of the Indian children of the day – his anguish when his father leaves him at the school, his confusion and terror as his braids are cut off and his hair is washed in kerosene by strange white people who yell at him in a language he doesn’t understand. The agony of punishments, the struggle with his inmates to belong, the pangs of starvation and the complete absence of any love being shown to the children. It is a hard read, and an emotional journey, and I thoroughly recommend it.
Rating: A – Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it.
For more about the author – Click Here
With thanks to Dundurn Group and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.