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Review: The Barren Grounds

The Barren Grounds book cover

Title: The Barren Grounds
Author: David A. Robertson
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary Fantasy
Page Count: 256
Published by: Puffin Books
Date Published: September 8, 2020
You can find it here: Bookshop.org


Morgan has been through too many foster homes since she was three years old. She cannot trust and she doesn’t care to, even if her new foster parents mean well. When her foster parents accept care of another child, Eli, these two Indigenous children form a reluctant bond as they struggle to fit in. When a picture that Eli drew for Morgan turns out to be a portal to the world of Misewa, the foster siblings set forth on a journey of self discovery, enlightenment and acceptance as they fight to help the residents of Misewa – anthropomorphic characters including a smart talking squirrel named Arik and a wizened fisher named Ochek  – put an end to the endless winter of The Barren Grounds.

Overall Thoughts

While the contemporary aspects of this novel – Morgan struggling to feel safe, accepted, and secure within her well intentioned foster parents care, while also struggling to understand (or not wanting to understand) her Indigenous heritage  – are my favourite, stand out parts of this novel, the whole work is really a fantastic adventure. The portal fantasy section, in which Morgan and her foster brother Eli venture to Misewa lacked that strong character voice I fell for in the first part of the book, but this section had a unique feeling of a spoken aloud, Indigenous story. Much like the ones told today on Orange Shirt day (here in Canada), I really felt the Indigenous voice rang strong throughout this striking little novel. It has definitely set itself up for fantastic future explorations and any reader who loves anthropomorphism will connect to the lively side characters of Arik and Ochek. Great metaphors are exemplified through story – including white man and his conquering of Indigenous land and their subsequent eradicating and misuse of local wildlife. A great read to open conversations on Indigenous peoples, their land, and the harmful role white man has played in their history, while also gently exploring feelings of alienation and the difficulty of finding harmony and security in foster families. I really enjoyed this heartfelt story.

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