Review of ‘Tilly and the Crazy Eights’

I have completed Monique Gray Smith’s ‘Tilly and the Crazy Eights’. This was a fun book to read and I think I learned a lot while reading it. Native/Aboriginal/Indian issues are in the Canadian mainstream right now so this book has found a fertile time to land.
It is a bit too sweet at times and definitely pulls on the heartstrings of the reader. If you don’t laugh and cry while reading it, you should probably get your heart checked. It is an entertaining read with an interesting ensemble of characters.
But, it is the characters with which I find the first weakness of this brave novel. I had trouble picturing these people in my mind’s eye. There is very little physical description of them and few quirks, habits or tells to queue the reader to them. The voices are not distinct between them so following dialog relied on Tilly said, Sarah said, etc. I think this was a flaw that made it harder for this reader to associate and empathize with the characters. I little more description and personalization of the characters would have gone a long way. I wondered what nation these people were from, but had to guess.
There was quite a bit of ‘Telling’ versus ‘Showing’. We are told Rose is gruff and cold, we are told Pancho as a good heart. These things ‘shown’ would have made a better novel.
And the choice of omniscient point of view is something I don’t much like. Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy pull it off, but I feel it keeps the reader from getting into the heart and mind of the characters. A good reason to read is to experience what the characters in the book are experiencing, without the risks involved. To fall in love, to watch a loved one die, to dance in a Pow Wow. This experiencing is best done with close third person where the reader becomes the character, immerses into their world experience. This wonderful spell is broken in omni, especially when the author jumps between points of view. I would be experiencing something from Tilly’s POV then suddenly head-hop to Pancho’s POV. The spell is broken.
There is some tough material covered in this book and I salute Gray Smith for taking it on. Truth and Reconciliation, Residential schools and the sixties-scoop, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Life on the rez.
The book led me to look up Pendleton blankets and to watch a You-tube video of the world Pow Pow in Albuquerque. I must try out fry bread. And like I said above, I did both laugh and cry. A good read that I recommend.

Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, Albuquerque NM