Friday, January 19, 2018

The Marrow Thieves - Cherie Dimaline

Summary: In a futuristic world ravaged by global warming, people have lost the ability to dream, and the dreamlessness has led to widespread madness. The only people still able to dream are North America's Indigenous people, and it is their marrow that holds the cure for the rest of the world. But getting the marrow, and dreams, means death for the unwilling donors. Driven to flight, a fifteen-year-old and his companions struggle for survival, attempt to reunite with loved ones and take refuge from the "recruiters" who seek them out to bring them to the marrow-stealing "factories." (Summary and pic from

My Review:This book is the 2017 winner of the Kirkus Prize for fiction teen books so I had to read it and see what all the hype is about. I would say that overall I liked it—it’s certainly got that dystopian element that is so popular in teen fic these days. I have read quite a few dystopian novels over the past few years (as I’m sure you have) and I can’t help but wonder if teens are really binging on this as much as the adults are? Do they ever get paranoid or scared by it as we adults do, or do they just let it be a simple distraction and fun for their life? You know, as much as dystopia is fun. Which mostly it is not. Interesting, sure. Inventive? Hopefully. Uplifting? Doubtful.

So I have to start by saying that like many books in the dystopian genre, the details of this one are confusing. I get the basic premise—the world has been destroyed by global warming and people have stopped being able to dream (whether this is sleep dreaming or going-for-your-dreams type-dreaming is unclear) but they have found that Native populations have the key to being able to dream in their DNA, so they extract it from their bone marrow. This results in all sorts of hunting down people and capturing and torture and such, as you might image. And that’s the crux of the book, actually, which I will get into later. The actual taking of bone marrow or how it works and why it works and why it is just native populations (and what is native, really, in this dystopian world? I mean, there are people native to each area in the world, and everybody is native to somewhere, but is it just native meaning people who are not white? Because the term “native” seems to vary broadly in that there are native populations from Canada, America, and even some of the islands. Was it just the American continent? What about the indigenous people in other areas? This was also confusing). Also, the indigenous people who are the main characters are able to find what they think might be a solution to all of this madness, but I’m not sure why the solution was what it was which is too bad because it could have been really cool. I’m being intentionally vague about all of this because I don’t want to ruin the book, but also because it was genuinely confusing. I wanted it to make sense. I really did. However, I think Dimaline had created a dystopian world so rich in her mind that she didn’t understand what the rest of us didn’t understand. The world was so real to her and so obvious that the few crumbs that she thought were all we needed were not enough to actually make it very cohesive.

The fact about all of this is, though, that many dystopian books are this way. The how and why and the details of All the Badness are often vague so that the book can focus on the characters, so this is pretty standard fare for dystopian books.

What this book did have going for it was the actual dripping from the page dread, fear, and confusion that the characters were feeling. Dimaline did an excellent job of creating characters who were relatable and easy to understand. The story itself had a hopeless quality that I’m assuming would be very real and prevailing in an actual dystopian world. I really enjoyed the indigenous cultural infusions that Dimaline used, and my own regret is that there weren’t more of them. I LOVE culture and I love how it plays into people’s lives. Culture was a huge part of this novel because of the nature of the characters being hunted for their indigenous bone marrow. There was a very interesting juxtaposition of elders who had traditional culture and language and stories (which was super fascinating) and then the modern young teen characters who were trying to live in a world where they hadn’t had much exposure to their traditional culture and yet it now meant everything—the key to saving themselves both physically and emotionally as well. I really Really REALLY wish there had been more exploration into the indigenous cultures in this book. I think it would have made it so much richer, and also filled out the story more. It really was confusing in so many ways. That being said, I understand that YA fic can only be so long with only so much depth or it ceases to capture its audience. In Marrow Thieves there is just enough culture and depth to really make the story and leave the reader wanting a lot more.

Because I felt like there was much confusion surrounding the actual premise of the book—the marrow and how it is connected to dreams—and because I wanted a lot more culture discussion in this book to flesh it out, I’m giving this book 3.5 stars. I so wanted to be immersed in this culture and in the end I felt like there was so much of that lacking. That being said, if you are into dystopian fiction, you should definitely check it out.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and some minor descriptions of minor teen sexual play (no sex). I would say it is on par with others in its genre, maybe even on the lighter side.

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