Review: Wenjack by Joseph Boyden

Hey guys!

I hope you’re all having an awesome week and a warm and cozy winter. I can’t friggin believe that it’s almost March. So, last week, I told you all about a book I found at the library, and this week I want to tell you about another library find. I originally found this one at Chapters and then at Indigo, and then again at the library. Jeez, these books are practically screaming at me to take them home with me. So, I listened, and this one was a pretty awesome read that I can’t wait to tell you all about. This week’s review is about Wenjack by Joseph Boyden, and I just love him. Boyden has a writing style that I absolutely love and this book was no exception. I originally discovered his writing when I took a Canadian Literature course a few years ago. I was so happy that I found his first novel, Three Day Road, and couldn’t wait to read more from him. Wenjack is a novella about some pretty heavy stuff in Canada’s history, namely the treatment of Aboriginals in residential schools. “Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. Although the first residential facilities were established in New France, the term usually refers to the custodial schools established after 1880” (The Canadian Encyclopedia). Essentially, these schools attempted to erase an entire culture and way of life. Like I said, pretty heavy stuff. Because I’m just way too excited to function, let’s just straight to the summary!

Set in Ontario, Canada, this book tells the story of Charlie, a young Ojibwe boy. Charlie was separated from his family and made to attend a residential school where teachers tried to assimilate him into Canadian culture. The teachers strongly discouraged him and other children from speaking their language. These children were made to speak only English for fear of physical discipline. Charlie runs away from this school, not really aware of how far away he is from his home and his family. During his trip, he is followed by Manitous, or spirits of the forest, who provide commentary the whole way. The Manitous appear as a variety of different animals, and often make fun of Charlie, before eventually comforting him. This little book was based on a true story about a child in the 1960s and continues to be a very important tale of the plight of Native persons in Canada at the hands of these brutal schools that oppressed an entire culture for 100 years.

Let me start by saying how much I absolutely loved this book. As a novella, it doesn’t take much time to read, but definitely stays with the reader. The amount of oppression and hardship described here was staggering and difficult to read, but I’m extremely glad that I found it. I really, really enjoyed this book, especially the writing style. Boyden weaves native culture and vocabulary throughout the story, which gives the reader a sense that they’re traveling along with Charlie. In the Manitous, the reader has a glimpse into Native spirituality and culture. I absolutely loved their distinctive voices and commentary. The story was both heartbreaking and beautiful. So, was there anything about this book that I didn’t love? I wish it was longer and more in depth, but the size of the fragile little book makes sense when I consider the subject matter. I absolutely loved this one and it only contributes to my immense adoration of Joseph Boyden as an author. I would absolutely recommend this book to history buffs and any and all Canadians. This story is extremely important and remarkable. I adored this book and can’t wait to read more from Boyden – it was entirely spectacular.

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