Five Little Indians, Michelle Good

Another review of an excellent book written by Canadian author, Michelle Good.

Five Little Indians has won numerous prizes, all of them well-earned.

This book is very much an “Add to your reading list”addition.

Here is a list of the prizes it has been awarded:

  • Finalist Writers’ Trust Fiction
  • Prize Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist
  • National Bestseller
  • A Globe and Mail Top 100 Book of the Year
  • A CBC Best Book of the Year
  • An Apple Best Book of the Year
  • A Kobo Best Book of the Year
  • An Indigo Best Book of the Year

Taken from their families when they are very small and sent to a remote, church-run residential school, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie are barely out of childhood when they are finally released after years of detention.

Alone and without any skills, support or families, the teens find their way to the seedy and foreign world of Downtown Eastside Vancouver, where they cling together, striving to find a place of safety and belonging in a world that doesn’t want them. The paths of the five friends cross and crisscross over the decades as they struggle to overcome, or at least forget, the trauma they endured during their years at the Mission.

Fuelled by rage and furious with God, Clara finds her way into the dangerous, highly charged world of the American Indian Movement. Maisie internalizes her pain and continually places herself in dangerous situations. Famous for his daring escapes from the school, Kenny can’t stop running and moves restlessly from job to job—through fishing grounds, orchards and logging camps—trying to outrun his memories and his addiction. Lucy finds peace in motherhood and nurtures a secret compulsive disorder as she waits for Kenny to return to the life they once hoped to share together. After almost beating one of his tormentors to death, Howie serves time in prison, then tries once again to re-enter society and begin life anew.

With compassion and insight, Five Little Indians chronicles the desperate quest of these residential school survivors to come to terms with their past and, ultimately, find a way forward.

Richard comments
Michelle Good is a writer of Cree ancestry and a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. She obtained her law degree after three decades of working with Indigenous communities and organizations. She earned her MFA in creative writing at UBC while still practicing law, and won the HarperCollins/UBC Prize for best new fiction in 2018 for this novel. Her poems, short stories and essays have been published in magazines and anthologies across Canada. She lives and writes in south central British Columbia.

‘Five Little Indians’ is an entertaining book to read. Polished, refined, thoughtfully selected phrasing and vocabulary. Michelle Good wrote this book with much care and consideration. Her extensive involvement with the Indigenous community affords her well-founded opportunities and insights into Indigenous lives. Though the five protagonists are fictional, their narratives are based on real-life as researched and learned by the author. Hence, though fictional Five Little Indians is based on fact and reality.

The stories are all vivid, written with sensitivity and respect as if Good were actually recounting a real-life interview with the character. Good writes from a position of respect, caring and sensitivity. She is very familiar with the reality of the residential schools based on her years of experience and contact with the Indigenous communities. Though she could have written a castigation and serious criticism as her story, writing graphic descriptions of life in the schools, she eschewed that route and choose to imply more than describe actual incidents. The incidents and abuses inflicted on the indigenous children by the religious heads are not described in any kind of detail which would have made the book sensationalist. Instead, the author implies and suggests leaving it to the reader to colour in reality.

The writing is excellent, vocabulary is carefully chosen, phrasing polished and refined. A reader can see an author working to her full capacity and skill as a literary creator. The narratives, though they are fictional, they are so vivid and descriptively detailed they seem real.

Michelle Good writes like a great composer. Her verbal symphony is a sympathetic ode to the victims of residential schools, children who should never be forgotten. Her book is a ‘must-read,’ especially in these days after the horrendous discovery of residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

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