Canada Reads @ the Library: Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

Defended by Councillor Jacquie Hansen

Life can be tough for an Indigenous teenager.  This is a story of courage, chance, love and resilience, a “coming-of-age” book.  A must-read for all Canadians. 

By all accounts Jared Marten should have grown up to be a hardened criminal, with a violent nature, in and out of jail. Given his upbringing, he has no business being so caring and compassionate.  He is surrounded by a nasty cast of characters (especially a crazy mother) who love him but use him; his loyalty to them is unwavering but so is his resolve.  

By the time Jared is five years old he knows he is different.  His maternal grandmother calls him a Son of a Trickster because she sees spirits in him.  His mother, Maggie wants him to be tough and hard and makes his life a constant misery. 

Maggie is a heavy substance user with deep mood swings.  She is violent and trusts no one, not her own mother nor Jared’s father: “.. we forget them.  We leave them in the past and we don’t talk about them.” Subsequently,  attachment is hard for Jared.  

One day, Maggie brings a boyfriend home.  David is kind and giving, even clean cut.  He cares about Jared’s school marks and seems to care about Maggie too, until he doesn’t and becomes violent.  At one point, Maggie yells at Jared to nail gun David’s feet to the floor.  Jared cannot do it, so she does.  For a long time, she refuses to speak to Jared holding a grudge because she thinks he’s a wuss. Maggie’s mantra was:  Life is hard, you have to be harder.

Throughout the constant chaos, we see a very caring and compassionate side of Jared. Maggie says: “Jared, you have a big heart, and if you let it lead you around, people are going to use that. Trust me on that, okay?” She is right. 

Jared is a smart kid, but his grades start to fail because his family is a disaster.  To make ends meet and to secretly pay for his Dad’s rent, he bakes and sells pot cookies–that works for a while. He befriends and helps an elderly couple around their home and they become dependent on him.   

Jared starts to drink heavily and it is at this time that spirits begin to visit him.  Is he crazy like his mother? Soon he has a grizzly bear living in his bedroom, sees fireflies hovering, and sees his beloved dead dog Baby come back to life.  Maggie soon realizes that Jared has the gift of spirits and teaches him magic spells that keep the spirits at bay.  Jared’s life is a disaster.  The reader is left wondering if Jared will make it. 

There is one spirit, an old lady affectionately called Monster Aunt. She leads him to a better way and encourages him to stop drinking. Her mantra: Recovery begins with one sober hour.

Maggie hates that Jared is sober and says she wants her son back. 

Sitting there thinking you’re better than me.  You aren’t better than me, you self-righteous prick”. She feels judged, at which point Jared says: “I’m not judging you.  I love you.”

While Maggie’s life continues to spin out of control, Jared keeps loving and protecting her.  His determination, courage and strength are his resolve and finally his life begins to take shape. 

Life is hard…you have to be harder.

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