What does it take to muster courage and act? Is it enough to bear witness to our history’s tragedies when the powers that be attempt to bury them? These are questions that sit at the heart of 2013’s winner of the Beacon Award for Social Justice Literature. When Molly Bell first spots an Ojibwe girl her age staging an escape from their local residential school, a deep curiosity is born. Later, as she befriends Nakina and learns more of her past and the daily injustices she suffers for simply existing, Molly begins to see her world in a new light. She takes to photography and painting as a way to freeze these moments of clarity while attempting to analyze and better understand them.
It’s not until Nakina disappears and she lives her own tragedy that Molly begins to delve deeper into what happened at the residential schools and how that has affected the fate of her closest friend.
Set in fictional town Fort McKay in Northern Ontario, Carol McDougall reins in her words, leaving us with a stark page—a story boiled down to the bone. There is little to distract from the lesson McDougall wants the reader to take away, and for this we’re left with a story that meanders and wanes when Nakina is lost to Molly. Her obsession manifested in a painting that she can’t quite get right.
“That was the story. I painted my reflection into the picture. It was hard work and I kept at the painting for the rest of the week. Me, observing Nakina through glass. Watching her but never getting close. That was how it felt now.”
Trapped under glass, Nakina isn’t as much a friend to Molly as she is a catalyst for her (and the reader’s) education. While I may have preferred to see more and go deeper into Nakina’s experiences Wake the Stone Man acts as just that—a quiet prodding nudging us awake, and sometimes that is enough.
Wake the Stone Man
By Carol McDougall
$20.95, Paperback, 256 pp.
Roseway Publishing, April 2015