Friday, January 29, 2021

Debbie--have you seen THE BRAVE by James Bird?

A reader wrote to ask if we've read The Brave by James Bird. I am aware of it but have not read it. 

Bird's main character is a 13 year old boy named Collin who has never met his Ojibwe mother before, but is being sent to live with her by his white father. In a podcast I listened to earlier today, Bird says his father was white and his mother was Ojibwe. Bird was born in California and when he turned 18 or 19, went to Minnesota to "experience my tribe."  

Bird's book got several positive reviews (some stars, even) from the major children's literature review journals but it got a scathing review from David Treuer. He's an acclaimed writer and scholar. On his website he tells us he is an Ojibwe Indian from Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota. His review of The Brave appeared in The New York Times on July 31, 2020. Here's the last three paragraphs:

It's especially important that they do it in fiction for young people, which may be the only stage of life when most Americans think about us at all, as our history and present tense is inaccurately and glancingly taught to them in school.

If you're a regular reader of AICL or articles we write, or talks we give, you probably know that we say something similar to what Treuer said, a lot. The reason? People defend problematic fiction by saying (often in capital letters): IT IS FICTION. Sometimes they go on to say that a writer can do anything they want in fiction. That is true, but there's larger contexts and consequences to consider. Now the last two paragraphs of the review:   

The world depicted in "The Brave" is not Native American life as I know it. It's summer camp, complete with exotic names and faux rituals; chock-full of crafts, bravery tests and self-discovery.

I want better books for my Ojibwe/Seneca children to read: books that add to the stock of available reality, that incorporate our Native lives in a way that informs those lives and makes them larger. "The Brave" does none of those things. 

I have a copy now and am reading it, making notes as I read.  

[Back to add that as I read, I look things up. The book takes place on the Fond du Lac reservation. I wondered if Bird has relatives there, so did a search using his name and that reservation. I see a review by Deborah Locke in The Circle, a Native newspaper. Locke goes into more detail than Treuer did. Apparently a peach tree will be of significance to this story--but, the reviewer says--there are no peach trees in northern Minnesota. The review ends with "...we should be past stereotypes of stoic, wise Indians who speak little and are abnormally attached to the great outdoors." ] 


Leslie said...

Debbie, saw a previous review of yours about the book MONSTER LIKE ME by Wendy S. Swore. What do you think about the fact it won the Oklahoma 'Sequoyah' Award?

Debbie Reese said...

Leslie, that is disappointing, but not surprising. People know very little about Native peoples. Flawed books get starred reviews and win awards and are put on best books lists, every year. The fact that MONSTER LIKE ME won that award doesn't change my thoughts on the book.

What do you think about the fact that it won that award?