Porcupines and China Dolls, by Robert Arthur Alexie, is a very, very ambitious novel that deals with the lifetimes of trauma caused by child abuse in residential schools. But it is so much more. The title refers to how native children saw themselves after they had been sheared and sanitized to the standards of the white world. James Nathan and his best friend Jake Noland were both sexually abused while at residential school in the far north, a secret they keep buried deep inside them. James sums up the situation while staring at his peacefully sleeping girlfriend "You're lucky. You don't carry the dreams I carry. . . guaranteed to keep you in apathy 'n self-pity for the rest 'a your life. Or in booze. Or both, if you're lucky." Another abused friend commits suicide which brings Jake and another man to disclose what happened to them and eventually James also confesses. The culprit is brought to justice. There is a healing session after which both their lives slowly improve. Each finds love and cuts back on the drinking and partying, and James begins painting seriously, something he has always wanted to do. There is a lot of wry (rye) humor, as early on we are taken on a day long tour of a native saloon while James drinks to obliterate the memories of his horrible childhood. With its caustic and sometimes hilarious asides, it is probably the best description of the native bar scene ever written. The story occasionally lapses into melodrama, too many people cry too often, but on the whole the novel is timely and succeeds both as a tough-minded story and as an insight into the destruction wreaked on native peoples by the residential school system.
W.P. Kinsella (Books in Canada) -- Books in Canada --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Robert Arthur Alexie was born and raised in Fort McPherson in Canada's Northwest Territories. He became the chief of the Tetlit Gwich'in of Fort McPherson, served two terms as vice president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council and helped obtain a land claim agreement for the Gwich'in of the Northwest Territories. He now lives in Inuvik.