The first time I read the synopsis of this book, I put it down. I just wasn’t ready at that moment to immerse myself in what I was sure would be another heartbreaking tale that illustrates man’s tremendous capacity for cruelty. But the book, with its gorgeous cover, sat on my table willing me to pick it up and after a couple of weeks I did.
My first observation is that Five Little Indians is simply written. I don’t know if that is by design or is simply the author’s writing style but being a lover of more literary fare, I was tempted to walk away. However, I found myself emotionally drawn to each of the five main characters in the story and I came to understand that the sparse writing style may have been a metaphor for the life from which these children were torn.
The author, Michelle Good, did not attend residential school herself but her mother and grandmother did and she grew up hearing stories of their experiences which became “imprinted in her DNA”.
“It really is something that possessed me, if you will,” says Good. “[Residential schools] were a key component in the destruction of a culture. It’s something that has captured my psyche since childhood.”
Kenny, Lucy, Howie, Clara and Maisie are all Indigenous children taken into the residential school system at the age of six, in accordance with the law of the land at that time. Anyone who has been paying the slightest attention to Canada’s abysmal history vis a vis our First Nations people has likely heard some of the horror stories of what happened in those schools. This story doesn’t dwell so much on the actual injustices and indignities these kids survived but rather what paths their lives took when they were out of the system and how the abuse they suffered affected and shaped their lives as adults.
This tale demonstrates man’s incredible capacity to survive and overcome while at the same time illustrating the fragility of the human spirit. The effects of the trauma are inter-generational and the healing journey will be a very long one.
— Nancy C.