Summary: Red Wolf has a happy life with his parents and The People. He is part of the Anishnaabek nation and lives in close community with nature and the animals around him. The summer before everything changes Red Wolf is befriended by Crooked Ear, a recently orphaned wolf cub who must learn to survive on his own. When Red Wolf is forced to go to a residential school at the tender age of five, he also finds himself in a similar situation. As he grows, his experiences at school change his relationship with his parents and affect his trust of white people, leaving him with limited options and a profound sense of shame. Red Wolf struggles to find his place in the world when school finally ends and only finds his true path after confronting his mother about everything that has happened.
Number of Pages: 251
Age Range: 17-18
Review: In Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology speech to the Aboriginal People he called what happened to them a cultural genocide. Thanks to Red Wolf by Jennifer Dance, I now have a better understanding of the true impact of what cultural genocide means.
This is another topic that needs to be examined and re-examined in the hopes that we can learn from our sordid history. What I appreciate about Dance’s book is the new, sensitive perspective she gives me about reserves and residential schools. By basing her story at the time of their origin she sets the stage for all the books about the same topic that talk about a later time period. Dance increased my understanding and compassion just as she wished her book would in her dedication.
I was close to tears many times during my reading because the Indian Act had horrific results. Separating children from their parents and subjecting them to physical and sexual abuse, religious brainwashing and continuous emotional abuse are all things no child should have to experience and the fact they were mandated by the government makes it worse.
But even though I am so disturbed by the subject matter, I love Dance’s writing. The reason why Red Wolf and Crooked Ear are so affecting as characters is because Dance paints a vivid picture through the use of multiple perspectives. It’s a breathtaking portrait of sorrow and it went straight to my heart. I loved reading about Crooked Ear and the special relationship he and Red Wolf have. It lightens the story and I am happy their friendship provides some comfort for Red Wolf.
I have read that Red Wolf is for readers in middle grades but I don’t agree. It is a nuanced book with mature themes and needs an older teen or adult reader to fully appreciate it. I think it would also be suitable for a classroom setting.
I had more memorable quotes than the ones listed below but they were more passages of the book than quotes and too long to include. Reading Red Wolf is an experience that isn’t for the faint of heart but Dance is a talented storyteller who leaves us with a note of hope in the end.
“May this story open hearts and minds
to the history of Canada
and the long suffering of our First Nations people.
May it be used to restore relationships
and increase peace, understanding, and compassion
among our nation’s youth.” – Dedication from Red Wolf by Jennifer Dance
“Red Wolf followed the bright sparks that rode a distance on the wind. He felt something warm inside his chest. It wasn’t just fire, or the furs. He glanced up at the ridge and saw them! The wolves! He listened to their howl and his heart was filled with joy.
A bell clanged and Red Wolf knew something was wrong. Bells did not ring on the beach at Clear Lake. He looked at the sparks from the fire and watched them get snuffed into blackness.” – from Red Wolf by Jennifer Dance, page 86
“Crooked Ear trembled, wanting to roll on the ground with the child as he would with another wolf, but something warned him that the Upright pup needed to be treated gently. So he raced in circles until he was calm enough to sit on his haunches and allow the child to throw his arms around him. He licked behind the boy’s ear, Red Wolf’s giggles making the animal’s tail swish back and forth.
Then they chased each other along the trail. On the steep hills the boy held on to Crooked Ear’s ruff and allowed the wolf to pull him up the incline. Then they both raced down the other side, the wolf taking the lead and the boy, with arms held wide, pretending to fly like a bird.” – from Red Wolf by Jennifer Dance, page 133
“HeWhoWhistles pondered his son’s words for a long time, his breath moving in rhythm with his soft footfalls. ‘My son, the white man makes this life very hard for us. I am not yet dead, but already I am in Hell! They can do no more to me.'” – HeWhoWhistles from Red Wolf by Jennifer Dance, page 139
“Then he thought of Jesus, the school god, with long brown hair that flowed over his shoulders in the way of The People. George didn’t have much confidence in Jesus. After all, the white men had killed him. If he was so powerful, why did he let them do that?” – Red Wolf from Red Wolf by Jennifer Dance, page 167
“From the back of the horse, Red Wolf looked into his father’s face and was angry. Hatred surged into his throat like vomit; hatred for HeWhoWhistles for not being all-powerful, hatred for StarWoman for not being there. He hated them both for not loving him enough to fight for him. He fought back his tears and said nothing.” – Red Wolf from Red Wolf by Jennifer Dance, pages 192-193
“Both boys understood that male piglets had to be castrated. The boar that was kept for breeding purposes was evidence that uncastrated piglets grew into dangerous, unmanageable animals. George knew that the strength and wildness that he took from a piglet had been taken from him too, albeit in a different manner. Like the pigs, he had become docile, domesticated, and tame.” – George from Red Wolf by Jennifer Dance, pages 208-209
“Daisy was the biggest animal George had ever seen. Her withers were higher than his head, and he couldn’t see the top of her back. But once he got over the shock of her immense size and strength, he realized that she was a gentle and sweet-natured creature with no trace of malice. He felt safer around her than he did around white folk because he sensed she wouldn’t try to hurt him. Most white folk, on the other hand, made his heart beat fast, his stomach churn, and sweat break out on the palm of his hands.” – George from Red Wolf by Jennifer Dance, page 213
Red Wolf by Jennifer Dance is published by Dundurn Press, (2014).