The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline. ★★★1/2
This YA dystopia is pretty different from the rest of its subgenre, in a good way.
Frenchie is on the run. His parents and brother have already been taken, grabbed by government agents, shoved in a white van, and driven off to the schools. After years of ecological devastation, a new disaster struck: the majority of the population became unable to dream with terrible results. The only ones who can still dream are Native Americans, and their bone marrow holds the cure for the dreamless. And so the Canadian government authorizes their unwilling sacrifice, turning people into parts to be harvested. Frenchie’s survived, but survival is always in doubt. He’s found a group of other Indigenous people, all on the run from the “recruiters.” Each of them has their own story of loss, but their futures are not without hope.
The Marrow Thieves has an unconventional structure. While the main story is Frenchie and his found family trekking through the woods, The Marrow Thieves also contains stories within stories, detailing the pasts of different group members. There’s Miig, a man whose husband was kidnapped by recruiters. Wab, who has been victim to some brutal violence. Minerva, the eldest member of their group. Also unlike the majority of YA dystopian novels, it’s not action packed. It was interesting to read something of this genre with a slower, more reflective pace. It just goes to show how it can be good to break the mold.
The Marrow Thieves shows the importance of the characters’ specific connections to their Native heritage and legacy of survival. Frenchie and his family might be living in a hellish dystopia, but his people’s pasts have been dystopic too. Thus, the horrors of The Marrow Thieves are grounded in a long history of racial and cultural violence and the inequities of our present.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the romantic subplot, which is with a girl named Rose. Look, it takes a lot to sell me on a romantic subplot, and this one doesn’t cut it. I found it hard to buy into the connection between Frenchie and Rose, since it sort of felt like the reason he was interested in her was because she was the only girl his age. I can see it as a crush, but not much more than that. Then again, the overhyped drama of a first crush is probably accurate for a lot of teenagers. It’s just not my cup of tea.
I occasionally found the writing style clunky. Some other reviewers have mentioned how The Marrow Thieves forshadows by outright telling you something important is about to happen. Multiple times. Yeah, I noticed that as well, and while it did make me wonder what was going to happen, it also threw me out of the story.
The Marrow Thieves is a dark, intelligent novel and an important addition to young adult literature. At the same time, I’m not sure I’d be interested in reading any possible sequels. While I liked how it departed from some genre tropes, why did it have to keep the half baked romance sub-plot? Oh, well. It may not have appealed to me as a reader, but I’m sure it’ll find its fans.