Book Review: These Are My Words: The Residential School Diary of Violet Pesheens by Ruby Slipperjack

29913356Dear Canada: These Are My Words: The Residential School Diary of Violet Pesheens

Ruby Slipperjack

4/5 stars

Release Date: August 30, 2016

Publisher: Scholastic Canada

Purchase: Amazon | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Violet Pesheen is struggling to adjust to her new life at Residential School. She misses her Grandma; she has run-ins with Cree girls; at her “white” school, everyone just stares; and everything she brought has been taken from her, including her name—she is now just a number. But worst of all, she has a fear. A fear of forgetting the things she treasures most: her Anishnabe language; the names of those she knew before; and her traditional customs. A fear of forgetting who she was.

Her notebook is the one place she can record all of her worries, and heartbreaks, and memories. And maybe, just maybe there will be hope at the end of the tunnel.

Drawing from her own experiences at Residential School, Ruby Slipperjack creates a brave, yet heartbreaking heroine in Violet, and lets young readers glimpse into an all-too important chapter in our nation’s history.

Review:

These Are My Words: The Residential School Diary of Violet Pesheens by Ruby Slipperjack tells the story of 12 year old Violet (Pynut) and her experience at a residential school during the years 1966 and 1967. Like previous Dear Canada books, the novel is told in a diary-like format. If you’re unfamiliar with the Dear Canada series, they are books published by Scholastic Canada with the purpose of introducing middle grade readers to Canadian history through fictionalized diary entries, along with an epilogue, historical note and (usually) real photographs and maps. Most of the books are written by different authors but the format is always the same.

The diary-like format has always been my favourite thing about this series and THESE ARE MY WORDS is no exception. The diary entries help with bringing the reader back in time and makes Violet seem all the more real.

I could immediately get into this book and the story itself was fantastic, but Violet’s characterization fell a bit short for me. She didn’t seem to have much of a personality and I couldn’t get a strong sense of the emotions she was feeling. I understood she felt angry, scared, anxious and on occasion joy, but it was more told than shown. I thought at times maybe we didn’t fully see her personality because of the way residential schools were; Violet would have gotten in serious trouble for the things she wrote. I also thought that, this being a diary, she could have at the same time poured everything she had into it. Residential schools did drain children in every possible way, mentally, emotionally, and physically, so it’s also possible that at the end of the day Violet didn’t have a lot to share.

The first couple pages were very powerful, showing the horrific ways Indigenous children like Violet were treated. One of the worst was when Violet was given a number. Being reduced to #75 really made an impact. Unfortunately, the last couple pages didn’t have the same effect and it didn’t feel like an ending. I didn’t really feel like Violet’s story was over, unlike other books in this series.

THESE ARE MY WORDS is really great for introducing middle grade readers to the history of residential schools and Canadian history. Like other Dear Canada books, this novel was outstanding and I read it from start to finish. I recommend that all teachers, librarians and parents buy this for their MG readers. I don’t think many people realize how close to us residential schools have existed. The author mentions in the historical note that the last residential school closed in 1998. 1998! That’s only an 18 year difference from this book’s publication date. I haven’t read this series for years so I’m really happy this was the book that brought me back into it.

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