Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Recommended: FIRE STARTERS, by Jen Storm; illustrations by Scott B. Henderson, colours by Donovan Yaciuk

Check out the cover for Jen Storm's Fire Starters: 



Who are those two boys on bikes, riding away from that burning building? Are they the fire starters who set that building ablaze?

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Jen Storm's Fire Starters is a graphic novel published by Highwater Press in 2017. Its gorgeous illustrations are by Scott B. Henderson; Donovan Yaciuk did the colours. Here's the description:
Looking for a little mischief after discovering an old flare gun, Ron and Ben find themselves in trouble when the local gas bar on Agamiing Reserve goes up in flames, and they are wrongly accused of arson by the sheriff’s son. As the investigation goes forward, community attitudes are revealed, and the truth slowly comes to light.
In an interview at CBC Books, Storm said that she wanted to:  
..."explore how all the people in a town — the bully, the bystander, the underdog, law enforcement — would react and what their role can be in reconciliation because I think a lot of people hear that word and think really big grand picture and don't see how they can fit into it."
Reconciliation? Some readers of AICL know about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada. For those who don't, here's the introduction, from the commissions's website:
There is an emerging and compelling desire to put the events of the past behind us so that we can work towards a stronger and healthier future. The truth telling and reconciliation process as part of an overall holistic and comprehensive response to the Indian Residential School legacy is a sincere indication and acknowledgement of the injustices and harms experienced by Aboriginal people and the need for continued healing. This is a profound commitment to establishing new relationships embedded in mutual recognition and respect that will forge a brighter future. The truth of our common experiences will help set our spirits free and pave the way to reconciliation.
Storm is Ojibway from the Couchiching First Nation in Northwestern Ontario. With her story, she moves reconciliation from a concept to an on-the-ground example of what reconciliation could mean, in action, in a small community that is predominantly White.

Within a few pages, we know that the building is owned by a Native man. We also know that Ron and Ben, the Native teens, did not set that building on fire. We know that it was done by Michael, the sheriff's son, and we know why he did it. Ron and Ben are being held at the jail. People think they're the ones responsible for the fire. When they're let go, they are taunted on the school bus and at school, they're surrounded by kids who call them fire starters. A fight breaks out. There's more of this kind of thing later, at a hockey game.

Finally, the sheriff figures out that it is his son, Michael, who set the fire. After that, the story shifts to a circle justice gathering. It is a Native system of justice. In the next scenes, we see Michael helping to clean up the inside of the burned building.

Storm's story is a very thoughtful look at the two systems of justice. The Native boys are in the White system, being interrogated and intimidated. It is a stark contrast to what the White boy experiences in the Native system of justice. It points to the path Storm is looking for: how a community can heal, rather than how it could punish and inflict more harm on people.

There are two especially poignant aspects to the story. First is the poster on the wall of the building that was set on fire. It is of a Native woman. She's missing, and the poster is asking for help, to find her. For information about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, I suggest you read the news stories archived at Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). The second is Michael's friend. His name is Jason. Though he keeps it quiet, he is Native, too. He's torn between his friendship with Michael and his own strong sense of doing what is right, especially because he--like the Native boys being mistreated by the justice system and the townspeople--is Native.

I recommend Jen Storm's Fire Starter. There's a lot to study, think about, and of course, talk about.

1 comment:

Fast Lane Freight Services Inc said...

I was fortunate enough to be at the book launch for Fire Starters and hear Jen, Scott and Donovan speak about their experiences of making the novel! Between the great story telling, illustrations and colors the pages really do come to life! If you haven't yet read the book I strongly encourage you to. It was time well spent!
Bravo

D Lane Winnipeg