A young Native American man prepares for a future outside his small community in Campbell’s debut novel.
In the town of Reflection Lake, John is intent on finishing 12th grade, but up to this point, he’s been taking correspondence high school classes. His teachers have told him that he should go to the school in the town of Hope Bay, but his grandfather, Extol Bear, has advised against it because of that school’s history of discrimination. Luckily, it turns out that Reflection Lake’s high school will have teachers this year, and there’s even talk of bringing in a portable science lab. Extol is wary, however, because he once sent John’s father to a residential school that was hostile to Native American culture: “We have heard pleasant words before. They can change overnight.” The school receives a government grant, which enables the students to put on a play. John co-writes and narrates it, which makes him feel even more connected to his community. But although he earns a living as a tourist guide, he’s toying with applying to a university far away. Suddenly, a massive fire encroaches on Reflection Lake, and John and others race to fight it; soon, the young man’s future hangs in the balance. Campbell’s concise novel touches on some cultural issues of lingering importance, including the former practice of forcibly sending young Native Americans to white-run boarding schools. The culture-eradicating practices of the past still weigh heavily on John’s decision-making process in the present day, and Campbell’s portrayal of how memories haunt Extol is powerful. The action scenes during the fire and along the river are also consistently exciting. However, the rest of the narrative doesn’t feel as well-developed; the overall plot isn’t especially strong, and there are a number of scenes that either feel unnecessary or too short.
A novel about a remote indigenous town with an intriguing premise but uneven execution.