Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin
Cherie Dimaline never intended to write a sequel to her dystopian novel, The Marrow Thieves, but after earning the Governor General’s Award and the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature, she went into schools to talk with teens about writing the book. When the kids asked if there would be a sequel and were told “no”, they booed her. They wanted to know more about seventeen-year-old Frenchie, his girlfriend Rose, and their road family. They wanted more “coming to” stories, more knowledge of this past/future apocalyptic world, and how these characters would survive this Indigenous holocaust by living as a tight, loving, bush community.
A bone-chilling tale of what could happen, Hunting by Stars is set in the not-too-distant future; perhaps 2050, certainly within the lifetime of teens reading today. When humans have all but destroyed the planet and been sickened by plague, the non-Indigenous people stop dreaming and go insane. Settler scientists experiment and find a cure. Woven within the DNA of Indigenous peoples is the ability to dream. Once it becomes apparent that this precious fluid can be extracted from bone and turned into a dream-enhancing serum, Indigenous people become a commodity to be hunted and harvested. Medical centres, termed “schools,” are constructed like space-age hospitals, and “recruiters” enlisted to track down and detain anyone who might hold the cure. Worse still, some of their own kind are “turned” and sent into communities to bring in their own people. Indigenous people should be proud to do their part in healing the world, shouldn’t they? This situation puts Frenchie’s small family on the run in northern Ontario, heading north into the wilderness, or what’s left of it.
This tale is, in some ways, prophetic; in other ways, a horror story. If you’re squeamish to tales of imprisonment and torture, this story may not be for you. If you’re anxious and afraid of the coming climate change—which is already revealing itself in floods, droughts, fires, hurricanes, and extreme temperatures—this story might not be for you. I actually had to put it down and stop reading during our recent B.C. floods. It became suddenly too real.
But know this: within the evil perpetrated by one race upon another, despite the genocide so graphically portrayed, and the ferocity of Mother Earth’s reaction to humanity’s ignorance, this is also an inspiring story of survival and hope. Case in point—though Canada is still intent on producing the serum organically, the President of the United States has put a halt to the genocide and scientists there are working on a synthetic cure. For Frenchie’s family, the underground railroad south might hold more promise than the sketchy north.
The intensity of love shown between the members of Frenchie’s family, the heart-wrenching loss, deep betrayal and depravity shown by the other, and the gritty reality of living a bush-life on the run, sink deep into our souls.
This is a political book, told in the language of reconciliation—settler versus Indigenous—and from the point-of-view of the hunted. It’s the settlers who created the problem, yet the Indigenous people are being mined as the solution. The schools, forced imprisonment, government-sanctioned hunting of Indigenous people of all ages, and the medical testing and torture that goes on within them, are all based on the Indian residential school model of the none-too-distant past. As such, past is future, and now a thin weave between.
Cherie Dimaline is from the Georgian Bay Metis Community and this story is her voice. She is both a dreamer and singer; her cinematic, poetic prose transports us where “bees swarmed broken streets, made hives out of green-clotted houses, the wallpaper shot through with moss” (389); while her fertile imagination warns us of our own ghoulish capabilities.
Hunting by Stars pulses with a rhetoric of resilience and reclamation. As Nature reclaims the Earth, so Frenchie’s family works to reclaim its culture and language, cherished word by word, action by action, dream by dream. Both books should be read and discussed in schools, for we’ve left this generation with a massive task, and books such as this and The Marrow Thieves are roadmaps to reclamation and hope.
Hunting by Stars is published by Penguin Teen Canada.