Review by Audrey Wahking
Penguin Random House, 2021
390 pages, paperback, 16.99 CAD, ISBN 9780735269651
Young Adult, 15-18 years old
Weeds strangled the geometry of cultivated spaces overnight. Bees swarmed broken streets, made hives out of green-clotted houses, the wallpaper shot through with moss. Foxes traveled in covens, noses to the ground, throats safe from the wolves that slunk across barricaded highways like silent motorcycles. The moon was blocked by the flight of dark birds moving into new territory. Not every fight was violence. Some fights were resistances.
The Earth was a fighter, and sometimes that’s nothing more than the choreography of reclamation.
Set in a world where the Canadian government captures and murders Indigenous people to harvest their marrow, Cherie Dimaline’s novel Hunting By Stars explores the dark choices people make in the most desperate of times.
Picking up almost immediately after the events of Dimaline’s first book, The Marrow Thieves, Hunting By Stars follows seventeen-year-old Métis boy French and his found family of other Indigenous people as they struggle to survive. Dimaline’s novels take place in a world ravished by climate change, where rising seas have swallowed countries, unpolluted water is scarce, and weather is frequently deadly. Ordinary citizens and the Canadian government alike hunt Indigenous peoples for their bone marrow, which allows Indigenous peoples to dream and evade the madness that the dreamless population suffers. In Hunting By Stars, French’s worst fears have come true: Recruiters—government-sanctioned agents who capture Indigenous people—have kidnapped French and imprisoned him in a school where he struggles to stay alive. In the wilderness, his group’s elder, Miig, leads the family to what they hope is finally safety while French’s partner, Rose, splits off and attempts to find French.
Hunting By Stars shines on multiple facets, including its diverse characters, exploration of morality and choices, and creative parallels to real-life history. While French is the protagonist of Dimaline’s novels, both books contain a wide array of voices. Like Dimaline, French is Métis; however, Hunting By Stars also features people from different nations and identities, including Black, non-binary, and queer characters. In terms of portraying diverse characters, Hunting By Stars excels. Building on the first book’s themes of genocide and abuse of Indigenous people, Hunting By Stars also includes occasionally graphic descriptions of terror, mutilation, torture, birth, and infanticide. Dimaline’s writing is never excessively gory, but it does explore trauma in ways that some readers may find uncomfortable. Nevertheless, Dimaline’s novel draws thoughtful and creative parallels to Canada’s history of residential schools, systemic genocide, and theft—it is an important book to read in today’s climate of reconciliation and Indigenous activism.
While Dimaline’s first novel introduced the idea that morality is not black and white, and everyone can do unimaginable things to protect their lives, Hunting By Stars takes this idea to the next level by exploring the choices people make when their lives are threatened. Trapped in an insidious system designed to end with his death, French agonizes over how far he should go to survive, what he will sacrifice to return to his family, and how much of his idealistic self will remain once he’s made his decision. Dimaline does not let French shy away from facing the emotional and physical consequences of his actions, which I appreciated. As he grapples with his complicity within the system he hates, French grows as a person and must learn to live with his decisions.
Although Dimaline’s writing mechanics and use of metaphor in Hunting By Stars have improved from her first novel, there are a few plot inconsistencies. For example, French only notices that Wab and Chi Boy are in a relationship by the end of The Marrow Thieves, however, Wab is noticeably pregnant at the beginning of Hunting By Stars, which takes place almost immediately after the first book. Furthermore, it seems a little unlikely that French would be the only person taken by the Recruiters, since at the time of his capture he had only stepped a short distance away from the group to relieve himself. Despite these few inconsistencies, the world Dimaline creates is immersive and credible.
Overall, Hunting By Stars is a darkly thrilling sequel to The Marrow Thieves. It delves deeply into difficult questions about morality and asks what each of us would do to save ourselves. It acknowledges that everyone, even those positioned as ‘bad guys’, has their own motivations and fears; however, it also maintains that we all must face the consequences of our own actions.
Audrey Wahking is a lover of well-told stories, whether they come packaged as films, TV shows, or novels (though books remain her first love). She is currently studying at UBC Vancouver and living her own coming-of-age story.