Vermette’s piercing debut novel (following the poetry collection North End Love Songs) begins on a cold, snowy night, when Stella, a young Métis woman, looks out her window and witnesses an attack on a girl out on the Break-a tract of isolated land in Winnipeg’s North End. Frightened, she calls 911, but the girl and her attackers scatter into the night. The next day, the full weight of the situation is revealed: Emily, the 13-year-old daughter of Stella’s cousin Pauline, has been viciously assaulted and raped with a beer bottle. This is not a typical crime story. It is instead a harrowing mosaic, the fragments of which reveal the stories of Emily and her extended family, a young Métis police officer working on the case, as well those of the girls who attacked Emily. The story paints a broad picture of a family separated and brought together again, in different capacities, by varying forms of grief-and of another family, that of the perpetrator, shattered in ways seemingly impossible to mend, by drugs, crime and violence. Vermette portrays a wide array of strong, complicated, absolutely believable women, and through them and their hardships offers readers sharp views of race and class issues. This is slice-of-life storytelling at its finest.
Agent: Marilyn Biderman, Transatlantic. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Vermette (North End Love Songs, 2012) deserves the many accolades this novel about four generations of Métis women has earned since its first publication, in Canada in 2016. An apt trigger warning appears on the title page before the inciting incident: the sexual assault of teenage Emily. In the days immediately following the attack, the family’s women and, to a lesser degree, its men gather and support, which prompts them to contemplate their own life experiences and choices. Each of the women has scars, and a member of the second generation suffered an early, violent death. Police work to identify Emily’s attackers, but Vermette wisely shifts the focus to powerful why questions that fold in culture and identity. Multiple narrators combine into a collective experience of being on the outside, being subjected to poverty and violence, and being seen as inferior. The family matriarch, Kookom, provides the gravitational pull grounding the family, but she’s in decline. The Métis women in this novel survive, endure, and heal, but they also carry exceptionally heavy burdens and pay exceptionally heavy prices. This intimate and emotional look at their lives succeeds both as a novel and as a work of social justice. – Dziuban, Emily Copyright 2018 Booklist