Canada Reads 2016 includes 5 books which share the theme of “starting over”. The debate takes place March 21-24 when the Canada Reads winner will be chosen joining past novels such as Ru (2015), The Orenda (2014), February (2013), The Best Laid Plans (2011) all of which, I have enjoyed.
From the 2016 shortlist, I have already read The Illegal by Lawrence Hill and Birdie is the second Canada Reads 2016 novel that I have read. It tells the tale of a Cree woman who survived abuse, bullying, sadness and fear with the love and support of 4 women – her mother, her cousin/sister, her aunt and friend Lola.
Birdie is fleeing her past. Running away from the abuse that she had suffered at the hands of her Uncle. Abuse that was unseen by others yet helped feed her appetite and caused her to eat to the point of obesity. In her young life she had lived in a variety of places – at home in Loon Lake (where the abuse happened), at her Aunt Val’s (where she was removed after her aunt struggled with her mental health), in foster care (where she couldn’t believe that she deserved the kinds of her foster parents), on the streets, in a mental institution and now upstairs from the bakery where she worked. In every place she lived, she tried to escape her demons.
Birdie is presently living in Gibsons, British Columbia having chose this location as it was home of her teenage idol, Pat John who had starred in the CBC Beachcombers series. In Gibsons, she lived upstairs from the bakery she worked at and was supported by the owner, Lola. She drank and ended up in abusive situations, a scenario that Lola could relate to.
As she began to reflect on the experiences of her life and think of the past, she fell to her bed in Gibsons and slowly began “melting” away as she ‘traveled through her past’. Lola sought out her Aunt Val and her cousin Freda and the three women supported her, looked after her and tried to help her while she was “travelling” and wasting away. In her “travel” she saw her mother who had “disappeared”. As her family worried that she would die, Birdie considered her life experiences and came to terms with the trauma she had experienced in her life before she was able to “start over”.
This book is beautifully written and shares a sad reality that many aboriginal women have faced. In Birdie, the readers learn about the abuse and impact of alcohol in First Nations communities. I hope that this novel will help individuals be kind to others and to help them to consider what situations that they may have experienced before judging their current state.
Reflections of the author: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/unreserved/unreserved-honours-the-strength-of-indigenous-women-1.3472826/the-darkness-and-light-of-birdie-reflects-author-tracey-lindberg-s-own-life-story-1.3476140