Birdie by Tracey Lindberg

Rating: 4.8/5

This book was one of 5 shortlisted for the CBC Canada Reads for 2016. In my frantic ambition to read the titles before I attended the event, I purchased this title by Tracey Lindberg. It was the second book I read from the list, and even though it isn’t a lengthy book, it stalled me. For a  good 5 weeks. The first 100 pages open with a very unfamiliar narrative structure. Lindberg is writing from her native Cree traditions and incorporating a lot of that stylistically and structurally into her narrative.

The story starts off with Birdie, our protagonist, on a vision quest, and a lot of the descriptions are easily construed as confusing until about mid-way through the book. The timeline ricochets back and forth and the reader is left exhausted trying to rally her/his concept of plot progression. Still, tarry awhile dear reader, this book is a rewarding read, because once you have crossed that 100-page mark, it flows faster and with fierceness. You will find yourself hungering for the end of the book. You will glide along with Birdie and experience her agony as she gracefully narrates her harrowing journey of sexual abuse, homelessness and abandonment. Lindberg adeptly explores the concept of being lost and making a concerted effort to rally one’s strength and find oneself again. The vision quest is an excellent motif that leads the reader, and Birdie, through this journey of self-and-other discovery.

I adore this book because it gives a voice to our Indigenous relatives that is easily lost amidst a sea of other voices vying for our attention. This book is written with great attention to detail and the use of Cree words and phrases, even if the reader does not understand them thoroughly, is an enriching addition to our understanding of this rich and diverse culture. I was moved by the calm narration of often horrifying events experienced by Birdie, and several other female characters. There is no lace or fluff to this book, no attempt to dramatize events to leave readers raving and make a bestseller list somewhere. No, Lindberg is true to the modesty of her culture. She is true to the peace and kindness that emanates from her kind, and this is why this book needs to be read and celebrated. Along Birdie’s journey, you meet 3 strong women who comprise her family. These women are picked for their oddities, and like Birdie for their strength, and meshed together to create a beautiful mélange of love, compassion, kindness, courage, tenacity and above all, grace.

Should you choose to read this book, and I would recommend that you do, be prepared for the time it takes (it is a very hard read when you start), but also prepare yourself for the rewarding feeling of peace and kinship with our Indigenous female relatives you will feel when you are done.

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