Strangers by David Alexander Robertson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
4.5 stars rounded up. The only reason this amazing indigenous young adult mystery (with a little supernatural) story doesn’t get a full five stars... I hated the very last page. For me the story was perfect, up until a sequel tease was put in . While I knew it was a series, and will look forward to encountering these characters again, the way the last page sets up the sequel cheapened the entire story for me. Almost as though it lessened what had just happened because more was to come. It's a real shame and very frustrating to adore a story so much and then have it feel like a marketing device instead of the beautiful ending. Certainly there is way to set-up the sequel without degrading the existing story so much. I suspect that David Alexander Robertson didn't want it set-up this way and that the ending was more of a hook the publisher desired to try and sell the next book. That's just my guess; but there's likely some truth to it.
Our lead boy is an indigenous teen who was moved off his reserve at age 7, to the city (Winnipeg, Canada) following the death of his parents and some tribe children. While a hero to some, when he returns to his tribal home lands ten years later he is seen as a horrible reminder of what happened the ten years prior. And of course it's easy for people to wonder how he was involved in the incident ten years before. I'm vague here because I don't want to give away any of the goodies in the mystery that unfolds in Strangers. The overall mystery plot was well done, and while a little predictable it was certainly good enough to keep me intrigued and engaged.
The voices of our characters, especially the teenagers are very well done. I felt like there was a solid background established about the reserve children and what it meant to live outside 'the group' and in the city. As this is a very important distinction for the story and our leading teen boy I felt it was impressed upon us just enough. Additionally all of the characters, young or old felt like real people. I'm not sure how much time the author has spent on a reserve in Manitoba, Canada similar to the one he describes (it's fictional) but it felt genuine enough to me. Now I have no indigenous background or backing to base that on except that I live in Canada and went to school with a few kids who came into town for education from reserve lands. So it may be there is something I am missing. But for this white girl (and her limited knowledge) it didn't feel forced or over done.
It's funny at first I didn't really see our lead guys dreams and other odd things that happened as magic. They just felt like a part of his native background and spirituality. It wasn't until about halfway through the story, when some amazing things are revealed, that I realized there was a lot more going on. I liked that there was a slow, build up progression to the 'magic' or supernatural powers. Again it felt authentic and fit in really nicely with the character and plot development. Maybe what I really want to say here is the pacing is perfect. No matter what aspect of the story you look at Strangers has a pacing that keeps the pages turning, while still engaging the reader in the setting and characters.
Age and Romance
Besides the last page issues my other (not quite five star) issue with Strangers is the perpetuated romance that has transpired between our lead boy and a friend (who is a girl) at the age of 7. While many times during the story it is emphasized that at the time our lead boy was taken off the land he wasn't old enough to understand; at the same time it seems there are a lot of references to the 'love' that he and a girl had. They were seven years old! I'm sorry but I remember my 'boyfriend' at age 7... and trust me there was no romance there, just two kids who liked to hang out and happened to be of different genders. Additionally I would have felt more comfortable with the whole story if the age of our kids had been say 10 at the time of 'the incident'. That would have put 7 years between the time of the incident and leaving the reserve to our lead guy returning home. More than enough time for everything to have passed that did and a little more comfort for me on the age in which you might actually start to lust about someone or imagine marrying them in a more genuine way. Were I to say there was a flaw in this book it is this age differential that I would point out. It's not a deal breaker for me, and probably not worth a reduction in stars by a whole star; however, it was annoying enough that it did bug me each time the 'pre-romance' was discussed between our characters. Because let's face it, no 7-year-old is waiting for any other 7-year-old into their late teens to date because they one time were close friends. It's really just absurd.
I'm so pleased to have read this Canadian written, indigenous focused book this year. It is probably one of the most diverse books on my reading shelf for 2018. I love what Robertson did with this story and cannot wait for the second book (even if I hated the set-up).
If you are looking for a solid mystery, teen read with some indigenous diversity I think you will enjoy this book. I hope it gains more attention as Strangers shared an insight into how difficult it can be in a tight knit community if you are suddenly the outsider; and how much of a stranger that can make you to your own people.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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