Thursday, May 23, 2013

I Am Algonquin

As it says in my brief, little, header thingie at the top of my "About Me" section- I grew up in Downeast Maine.  As the crow flies, 2 miles from Canada, and about 15 from the Atlantic Ocean.  My father worked as a Forester for the Passamaquoddy Tribe. -And yes, before we moved there, all I could think of was the town in Pete's Dragon. I grew up with close friends within the tribe (even another Sarah Dawn!), and was frequently around that culture.  In fact, for a report for grad school few years ago, I was watching the PBS show Colonial House.  I knew it had been filmed near my hometown, but was surprised to see George, a family friend, on the show in full costume.  He and my father were good friends- they hunted moose together, and George helped build our log home. He has since passed away, but I do rent the DVDs from time to time when I'm feeling homesick.

The above paragraph is part of the reason I wanted to read I Am Algonquin: An Algonquin Quest Novel by Rick Revelle.  The Passamaquoddy tribe is part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, and is part of the Algonquin Nation.  The Wabanaki Confederacy consisted of five tribes that banded together in response to Iroquois aggression. The Tribe was such a large part of my childhood, I wanted to learn more about Algonquin history.

I Am Algonquin is a Young Adult historical novel that follows Mahingan and his family in 14th century Ontario.  Through it, the reader learns traditional Algonquin ways of life- hunting, playing sports, marriages, births, deaths, tribal conflicts and warfare, and the rites of passage for boys to become men.  It was really interesting to learn more about the gender roles, and how highly regarded women were.  

I wasn't the biggest fan of the dialogue.  While I enjoyed learning the vernacular, it just felt...clunky. It kind of reminded me of that scene in Anchorman where Baxter is talking to the Bear. I could understand if they were trying to speak English- but since this is 14th century, pre-European invasion...they are supposed to be speaking their native tongue, and I would figure it would flow a bit more smoothly.  It did seem to get better toward the end- maybe I just got used to it.

As I said in my post on far far away I love learning languages.  I appreciated Revelle's use of the Algonquin language in his narrative.  However, it got to be a bit distracting.  Each Algonquin word was followed by a parenthetical translation.  This would have been fine, except he uses a lot of Algonquin vocabulary.  I think it would have been much smoother to have footnotes on each page with the translation (this is probably just personal preference).  Revelle does include a glossary at the end of the book- instead of footnotes, he could've maybe just written the Algonquin in bold in the text?

Also, there was a point where the point-of-view suddenly changed from first person (Mahingan) to third-person.  It threw a wrench in the flow of reading, because all of a sudden we're getting two perspectives and thinking " can Mahingan be both here and here at the same time?  And why is he referring to himself in the third-person?"

Those are my only pseudo-complaints (they're really not that big- they didn't detract much from the overall story).  While I mentioned I wasn't a fan of the dialogue, I have to say I was a huge fan of the descriptive narration.  I would read ten pages on a battle and not even realize it!  The final battle alone is worth the read.

One of my favorite scenes involves a woodland buffalo hunt with members of the Wabanaki Tribe.  From the tracking to the kill to the butchering, I was enraptured (I grew up around all this, so it wasn't a tough read).  There is actually a point where he is describing the smell of the decaying meat, and I remembered the time my Dad had gotten a moose.  He and George came home, and Dad had set the skull (not fully cleaned) on top of the coat closet, and started putting his equipment away.  A week or so went by and we could not figure out what this horrible smell in the house was- I was standing on our landing, and saw a skull/antlers with bits of moose still on it.  So, I absolutely related to that whole chapter.

My other favorite scene was a battle over hunting grounds.  Not just any battle, though!  I was expecting blood and death and war-cries.  I got an epic game of lacrosse.  I wish we still settled disagreements that way...

There are moments of great joy and celebration, moments of fear and sorrow.  It is a good narrative of what life was like for these people in that time.  

I'd rate this probably a 3.5/5.  I loved the history, the description, and learning about Algonquin traditions.  I just wish it had flowed a bit better with the dialogue and vocabulary.  I would recommend this to anyone interested in Tribal history, Canadian history, hunting, and languages.  

I Am Algonquin: An Algonquin Quest Novel is published by Dundurn. ARC provided by NetGalley.


  1. That's so cool! I am part Cherokee Indian. I think my favorite book about Indians is called Indian Captive by Lois Lenski which I read as a small child.

  2. Sarah, thank you so much for the wonderful review. I'm sorry that you think the flow was a little wonky, however I really needed the Algonquin Language in the book as a learning tool. In this day and age if you want to write a book and have it read you have to have something different with a "hook." My "hook" is the language. If it was written all in English would you have never been touched by the Algonuin Language.
    Our language is disappearing and I want to bring attention to the a dialect that was spoken by many tribes.

    Almost done the second book called Algonquin Spring which is a continuation of I Am Algonquin. In this book the Mi'Kmaq and Mohawks are introduced in depth along with their languages.

    Thanks again Sarah for taking the time to review this.

    Rick Revelle author of I Am Algonquin