One day I will run. One day they won’t hurt me anymore” – Wenjack, Joseph Boyden
First Impressions: This novella is one of the many books that I will study in a class on Indigenous literature. I was delighted to see that the book is only 112 pages long with large font and pictures. I was also very glad to find a book that would only take one hour to read. After I finished reading, I have developed a great admiration for Wenjack‘s, author Joseph Boyden, and his masterful writing style.
Wenjack is based on the true story of Chanie Wenjack, a young boy who decided to run away from a residential school only to find that his home is further than he anticipated. As Chanie navigates his way back home, spirits watch his progress on his journey to freedom.
About the Book
Author: Joseph Boyden
Year published: 2016
Genres: Canadian fiction, historical fiction, indigenous literature
Wenjack is based on the true story of a young Ojibwe boy named Chanie Wenjack. Chanie Wenjack was forced to attend a residential school in Northern Ontario under harsh abusive conditions. From the 1940’s until 1996, indigenous people were forced into residential schools in order to wipe out their indigenous culture. In other words, the purpose of residential schools were to commit cultural genocide. When Chanie escaped from the school, little did he know that his home was an astounding 400 miles away. On October 22, 1966, Chanie was found dead near railroad tracks. His story was one of the first stories which brought the horrors of residential schools into the forefront of Canadian media. With the soaring popularity of Wenjack as a current bestseller in Canada, Chanie Wenjack’s story continues to demonstrate its importance to Canadians nationwide.
Joseph Boyden’s novella is told through diverse perspectives. The first perspective is through Chanie himself. The narration style is sparse and represents the innocence of Chanie’s character. Boyden’s portrayal of Chanie’s innocence only makes the ending of the novella even more devastating. The second perspective is through the Manitous, spirits who take on the form of various animals and insects that Chanie encounters during his travels. Boyden’s simplistic narration is nearly poetic, and flows beautifully as he captures the essence of nature within Chanie’s spirit. Not only is the novella beautifully written, each section is masterfully illustrated to reflect each essence the Manitous take during Chanie’s travels. The small illustrations help to immerse the reader into Chanie’s story and accentuate the beauty of Boyden’s words.
This novella is not only important for being a formidable addition to literature, but also for its reflection on a historical tragedy which continues to touch Canadians everywhere. Wenjack opens a discussion to recognize the diverse situations of indigenous people during the past, as well as the present in Canada.
For further reading on the story of Chanie Wenjack, I would recommend Gord Downie’s The Secret Path, a graphic novel about the story of Chanie Wenjack. (Gord Downie is the lead singer of the Canadian band The Tragically Hip). Downie has also an album of the same title. His songs can be heard in the short animation, The Secret Path, which blends Downie’s music and the illustrations from the graphic novel together. The animated film The Secret Path can be viewed here.
Update: February 28, 2017: This review was written prior to the controversies surrounding Joseph Boyden’s indigenous heritage along with allegations of plagiarism directed towards him for a piece of short fiction published in 2001. Whether the allegations of plagiarism are true, it should not undermine Wenjack’s value as a text. I believe that this is a work of great value for the message it attempts to promote in the media. However, I also believe that Wenjack is merely a starting point when it comes to recognizing indigenous issues. I would recommend reading recognized indigenous authors to receive the full picture regarding indigenous issues.
Final Rating: A
Until Next Time,