It took me exactly one week to finish The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline. I don’t usually need seven days to get through a 231-page novel, but with Christmas approaching I find the only free time I have to read is during my meal breaks at work and whenever I am in transit. That said, I suppose I would have accelerated my pace if only I had liked the novel more. My library classifies this as youth fiction, but because of the profanity I would reclass it as adult.
The title refers to the non-indigenous population who has now lost the ability to dream. They believe that the source for regaining this ability is found in the bone marrow of the indigenous population, who are viewed as a commodity to be harvested. Frenchie, the protagonist who is depicted on the cover, is a First Nations youth who is on the run with a group of other indigenous people, ranging from a young girl to a respected elder woman. They are fleeing the Recruiters, where capture would send them back to residential schools or worse–to be killed for their marrow. During their migration north they lose some members and take others on and encounter other groups along the way. Some native people they meet are traitorous or “tricksters”, willing to turn others in for profit.
In keeping with the theme of dreams which underlies the novel, Dimaline has created a story with dreamlike elements. For such a literalist reader such as myself, I found it hard to get into the story at first. I didn’t really know what was going on, but continued to read while keeping my questions about the plot in check. As a short novel it didn’t take long for the plot mysteries to sort themselves out.
Dimaline wrote beautiful imagery using simile and I found the following to be so vivid I reread them before continuing:
“I’d tripped over an aboveground root bent like an arthritic finger and picked up a limp.”
“That’s when the new residential schools started growing up from the dirt like poisonous brick mushrooms.”
“Snow fell in a light dusting now. It looked like glitter scraped from the underside of clouds by the scrubby top branches of the pines.”
“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.”