Review: A Stranger at Home by Christy Jordan-Fenton

stranger at home

A Stranger at Home: A True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes

This sequel to Fatty Legs takes place after Margaret has spent two years at a residential school.  As Margaret finally returns home to her family, she does not expect her mother not to recognize her or for her transition back into the family to be so difficult.  She can’t eat the food her family eats because her stomach rejects it.  She has forgotten how to speak their language and can only talk in English.  The mukluks hurt her feet and she returns to wearing the canvas shoes she was given at school.  Slowly, she begins learn once again the culture that she had lost.  But then she faces the heartrending choice of whether to return to school with her little sisters or allow them to go alone.  This true story speaks to the tragedy of residential schools on Native peoples, an impact they are still recovering from.

A large part of the success of these books comes in their writing.  It is simply written with large, welcoming print.  The writing is matter-of-fact, not laden with imagery.  It is that straight honest writing that truly captures the loss and the pain.  It doesn’t allow a reader anywhere to hide, nowhere to duck away from the truth. 

The book does deal with subjects that are large and complex.  Yet the writing makes them infinitely readable and relatable.  Seeing the situation through Margaret’s eyes allows it to be personal and very effective.

The illustrations are an intriguing combination of historical photographs and drawings.  Where the photos are often in black and white, the illustrations themselves are done in deep colors that show the beauty of the landscape as well as the conflict within Margaret’s family. 

A strong sequel to the original, this book shows very clearly the lasting damage created by residential schools.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Annick Press.