Review of Little Voice

Ruby Slipperjack

(Young Adult Fiction)


Richard Van Camp

This book is a joy. I read it in one day and I was in no rush to finish it. This story follows "Ray", a young woman growing up in Ontario from Summer, 1978 to Summer, 1982.

Ray's family lost her father to an accident with a skidder when she was younger, so the onus of raising their younger brother, Billy, and her sister, Cindy, falls on her mother and Ray. Ray is different from the other children because she is half white and half Ojibway. She has green eyes (from her father who she misses very much) and is teased at school. Her nickname is "Cat Eyes".

Ray does not like school and she is doing her best to help raise her brother and sister, but her true joy is being on the land with her grandmother. In town there is hunger and racism. On the trapline with her grandmother, Ray is free. She gets to bead, cook, bake, laugh, sew, swim, visit, and be a child of the land. Her grandmother is not only an excellent teacher about life and how to survive and be resourceful with what you have, she is also a lot of fun.

What I loved most about this novel is the spirit of friendship. Ray's family befriends a baby moose and raise it as best they can before it outgrows (and outeats) their house. A trapper, Joshua, befriends a black bear cub and has to raise it until its first winter (when it hibernates), and Ray befriends a lonely, older man named Hitz, who becomes like her adopted uncle.

Ray's grandmother is a healer and mid-wife and Ray soon realizes that she is slowly being shown what her grandmother knows and that she was chosen at a very young age that she was going to inherit her mother's wealth of information on how to save lives, ease suffering and welcome newborn babies into the world.

There are several challenges in this novel for Ray: self identity, self awareness, a stalking bear that eventually attacks Ray and her grandmother out on the land, and the encroaching of the church officials who were making their presence known in the Native communities who wanted to whisk children away to residential schools. Ray's mother also remarries, so she has to adapt to a new family dynamic every time she returns from visiting her grandmother.

As in all of Ruby's novels, I felt innocent reading it. She brought me back to the bush, and she reminded me just how rich the traditional people are on the land and with each other. I am hoping this wins many awards and is translated into every language. I also think this would be an excellent book for ABE students. This really is a book for everyone.

Little Voice, by Ruby Slipperjack
Published by Coteau Books, 246 pages, ISBN 1550501828
© 2002 Richard Van Camp
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