Reviews and Essays

Book Review – The Marrow Thieves (Cherie Dimaline)



Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves is a standalone dystopian novel published in 2017. It is a Globe and Mail Best Book, a Canada Reads (CBC Books) 2018 selection and the 2018 winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada Council for the Arts). It currently holds a 4.11 on Goodreads.

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.”

Genres: YA / Dystopia / Fantasy / Literature

Format Used: Paperback

Length: 231 pages

My Rating: 4/5

From My Reading Challenge:

  • A physical book
  • A book I’ve DNF’d
  • A book someone bought me
  • A book from outside my culture / community
  • A book about a pandemic

My Thoughts

Trigger Warning:

This book contains some violence and a rape. Though the events are not described in great detail, they can still be difficult to read

This book was gifted to me by a friend who never strikes out with her book choices for me. When I first started reading it, I wasn’t in the right head space for it, and after reading the book’s one rape scene — I had to put it down. I knew I’d get back to it eventually. Flash forward 6 months; I picked it back up, started over, and this time, I was really taken with it.

This is not at all your typical YA Dystopia. It follows Frenchie, a Metis boy roughing the post-apocalypse Canadian wilderness. We learn that in this future, the world has undergone multiple disasters, including a pandemic that wiped out people’s ability to dream in their sleep. Unless, that is, you’re an indigenous person. In an effort to create a cure, indigenous peoples are being hunted, captured and brutally experimented on. The book carefully and thoughtfully evokes the actual historical atrocities indigenous people have faced in Canada, building on them to create a new heartbreaking reality for the characters.

Reading this was a unique experience for me because, geographically, the story is set in the area I call home, but the story itself is about a community I am not a part of. Despite being set in a fantastical future, the book is very much about the experience of being a native in Canada. Tradition is key. Everything from the importance of oral storytelling to language itself is intrinsic to this story. And, while the book is full of sorrow and loss, it’s also full of hope. The concept of the found family factors heavily into the narrative as you follow a band of mixed race survivors, and it’s absolutely touching.

As much as I enjoyed this read, I will say that I felt the need to whistle passed the premise a little, as it didn’t feel believable to me. I could be wrong, but I don’t actually know that people would be deeply disturbed and moved to action at losing the ability to dream. I chose instead to think of it figuratively — the premise lends itself well to metaphor and allegory. It was easier for me to think of it all in more abstract terms, than to convince myself people’s motivation for murder and chaos would be the desire to dream.

Overall, I think the book is touching and well-crafted. I do find it’s kind of slow to get going — I was close to halfway through before I started feeling glued to it. But, once the story picks up, it’s a page-turner. The characters are interesting, and there’s even a storyline about a same-sex partnership that I felt was well done. Side note, the book felt very Canadian to me. Thematically and stylistically, it fits well within the Canadian Lit canon, so I’m not surprised it was so well-received here. There were moments in the book that I could feel jumping off the page in the typical experimental animation style we tend towards. That was enjoyable, and made me smile.

Selected Quote

I knew I’d never see my family if I were captured; we wouldn’t be reunited at the school. I had to get down from this tree safely and keep moving. Mitch had sacrificed himself so I could live, so I had to live. It was the only thing left I could do for him.

Who Might Like It

I would recommend this book for: people who are familiar with and / or interested in indigenous history, especially in Canada. I’d also recommend this to people who are either fans of Canadian Lit or curious about what it has to offer; this is both exemplary and unique – best of both worlds.

I would not recommend this book for: YA fans or genre lovers looking for an experience similar to The Hunger Games or Divergent. This book is very far from that and is much more literary than genre.

My Rating

I have implemented a standard rating system to my book reviews:

1 – Story, plot and character development are all poor

2 – Concept is intriguing but execution is sloppy or does not deliver on promises

3 – Story, plot and/or character are interesting but some aspects of the book are problematic and/or not fully developed

4 – Strong story, plot and character development but has little-to-no thoughtful commentary

5 – Strong story, plot and character development along with thoughtful commentary

I give this book a 4.5. Despite the slow-to-start plot, the character and story development was strong. It was a moving book that allowed me to dip my toes in a whole other world for a little while. I loved how important tradition and history were to the characters and how intrinsic that all became to the narrative.

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