Wednesday, December 18, 2019

RECOMMENDED: Red River Resistance: A Girl Called Echo, V.2

Red River Resistance: A Girl Called Echo, Volume 2 
Written by Katherena Vermette (Metis)
Illus. by Scott B. Henderson. Colors by Donovan Yaciuk 
Published in 2019
Publisher: Highwater Press
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza 
Status: Recommended

Red River Resistance is the second graphic novel in Katherena Vermette's A Girl Called Echo series. The Metis teen protagonist of Volume 1 (Pemmican Wars) is still quiet, still spends a lot of time with earbuds in, listening to her music, but she's becoming less isolated. She is befriended by a classmate named Micah. She gets involved with the school's Indigenous Student Leadership group, under the guidance of teachers Mr. Bee and Mx Francois. She plays in the snow with her foster family. And she smiles a bit. But powerful dreams and daydreams still take her into the Metis history of what is currently called Canada. This time, her dream episodes are set in 1869-70, when political machinations in Canada focused on pushing Indigenous and Metis people further and further west. Metis leader Louis Riel is a central figure in the dream events Echo experiences. 
The first Echo book established that Echo is in foster care because her mother is in some sort of facility (mental health care? halfway house?). We can guess that historical or intergenerational trauma may be affecting the family. Echo's dreaming translates facts she learns in class into stories of her Metis ancestors. More than once, Echo wakes with tears streaming down her face. She feels the impact of historical events viscerally, (re)living hopeful and joyous moments as well as the pain of betrayal and shattered hopes, displacements, departures, and violence witnessed.  

Though it's not the story's only "message," teachers and others who work with young people need to be mindful that children and their family members may be affected in the present by what happened during earlier stages of settler-colonization. Intergenerational trauma may not be easily recognizable, but it's real. It can be a factor in depression, loneliness, child neglect, and other problems that are generally considered mental health issues, and the effects of those are communicated from generation to generation through actions and beliefs.

The more time I spend with this book, the more I appreciate the author's and the illustrator's & colorist's craft:
  • Character development. Echo's teachers, Mr. Bee and Mx Francois, are believable and rounded-out, though Mx Francois (pronouns they, them, their/s) hasn't yet had as much to say as Mr. Bee has. Mr. Bee, for example, stands in front of a classroom of benignly disengaged students and talks about what he loves: history. Notice how he seems to just assume his dozing, note-passing students are getting what they need from the information he's sharing. 
  • Detail in the graphics. Take time to read the screen on Echo's mp3 player. Notice the subtly pleased looks on the faces of the two teachers as they watch Echo and the other students talking together after the Indigenous Leadership bake sale. And spend a moment with the panel that shows the exhilaration Echo and her friend feel when they believe, briefly, that Louis Riel's efforts have succeeded -- wow!    
  • Things that pique interest: Such as -- Echo's foster mom -- what's her story? She has a houseful, including a child with special physical needs (seen in Pemmican Wars). Yet she treats Echo with great concern and respect, and when Echo seeks her out after a very bad dream, she seems surprised but her from-the-heart response is perfect. 
  • The back matter. A detailed Red River Resistance timeline and the Metis List of Rights from 1870 helped me better understand Mr. Bee's lectures and Echo's dreams. Both were essential, in fact.
A particular strength of the Echo books is that so far, Katherena Vermette has not had Echo interact directly with real historical figures in her dreams. Her relationships of the past are with people about her age, who seem to be her guides (Marie in Pemmican Wars, Benjamin in Red River Resistance.) I hope that trend continues. It's much more effective, in my opinion, to have her be primarily an observer, than to imagine fake dialogue between a 21st century middle schooler and someone such as Louis Riel.

Something to watch for: Volume 3 of A Girl Called Echo is due out in February 2020!


Val said...

Yay! I wondered when the next book was coming. It's been so popular with my students.

penelope said...

Thank you for this! I have now read and enjoyed the first two volumes and am adding them to my (homeschooled) son's Winter Term reading.