Bernice Meetoos, aka Birdie, is a Cree woman who has left her home in Northern Alberta and travelled to Gibsons, BC. There, she hopes to find and meet Pat Johns, who played Jesse on The Beachcombers, partly because of a teenage crush and partly because he is a working, healthy Indian man.
In Gibsons, she ends up meeting Lola, a white woman who gives her a place to stay and a job in her bakery. But it is also here that her past catches up to her. When she doesn’t find what she is looking for her on her travels, she has a breakdown and takes to her bed. Her Auntie Val and her cousin, Skinny Freda, soon arrive in Gibsons to take care of Birdie, as she embarks on a quest that will change her life forever.
Birdie, by Tracey Lindberg, is an incredible novel about confronting and healing from your past. Steeped in Cree lore and traditions, this novel touches on the life faced by Aboriginal woman in Canada and on the experiences all women face.
I had a tough time reading this book. I don’t think I was in the right headspace to fully appreciate what I was reading because as I sit down to write this review, the things that I glimpsed over are now coming back to move and haunt me.
Bernice, or Birdie, is a strong character that draws the emotion out of the readers. Sexually assaulted as a child by family members, raised by a single mother who disappeared, taken in by a white family who couldn’t relate to her, living on the streets of Edmonton, then ending up in a psychiatric facility, she lived through more heartache and hurt than should be had in a lifetime. All of this pain catches up to her, resulting in a breakdown, where she disappears into herself and her dreams, which include both Cree folklore and The Frugal Gourmet.
What also makes this book so poignant is the writing style. The book jumps around throughout Birdie’s life to give bits and pieces that eventually inform of the reader of why Birdie’s present day situation is so important. I greatly appreciate how Lindberg starts each chapter with Cree vocabulary and its English translation. They also include bits of an Acimowin, which in Cree tradition is a fable.
But the most important part of this novel, for me, is the way it puts a face to the strength and power of Native women in Canada. In a country that right now is crying out for something to be done regarding our treatment of the Aboriginal people, in a time where it looks like the powers that be may finally be waking up to the fact that we have failed the over 1100 missing or murdered Aboriginal women as well as those who endured the harsh realities of the residential school system, this book puts a face to those people we have for too long put to the side. But this book isn’t a face of victimhood, it’s a face of a culture that stands strong on its families and their traditions.
The more I sit and think on this book, the more I realize what an incredible story it is. This a story about healing, resilience, and community. This is a story about strength. It says a lot to me when a book keeps getting better long after I turn the final page.