Black Apple by Joan Crate

Black Apple

 Author: Joan Crate

 Release Date: March 1, 2016

 Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Format: paperback ARC

Pages: 336

Source: Publisher via OLA expo

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A dramatic and lyrical coming-of-age novel about a young Blackfoot girl who grows up in the residential school system on the Canadian prairies.

Torn from her home and delivered to St. Mark’s Residential School for Girls by government decree, young Rose Marie finds herself in an alien universe where nothing of her previous life is tolerated, not even her Blackfoot name. For she has entered into the world of the Sisters of Brotherly Love, an order of nuns dedicated to saving the Indigenous children from damnation. Life under the sharp eye of Mother Grace, the Mother General, becomes an endless series of torments, from daily recitations and obligations to chronic sickness and inedible food. And then there are the beatings. All the feisty Rose Marie wants to do is escape from St. Mark’s. How her imagination soars as she dreams about her lost family on the Reserve, finding in her visions a healing spirit that touches her heart. But all too soon she starts to see other shapes in her dreams as well, shapes that warn her of unspoken dangers and mysteries that threaten to engulf her. And she has seen the rows of plain wooden crosses behind the school, reminding her that many students have never left here alive.

Set during the Second World War and the 1950s, Black Apple is an unforgettable, vividly rendered novel about two very different women whose worlds collide: an irrepressible young Blackfoot girl whose spirit cannot be destroyed, and an aging yet powerful nun who increasingly doubts the value of her life. It captures brilliantly the strange mix of cruelty and compassion in the residential schools, where young children are forbidden to speak their own languages and given Christian names. As Rose Marie matures, she finds increasingly that she knows only the life of the nuns, with its piety, hard work and self-denial. Why is it, then, that she is haunted by secret visions—of past crimes in the school that terrify her, of her dead mother, of the Indigenous life on the plains that has long vanished? Even the kind-hearted Sister Cilla is unable to calm her fears. And then, there is a miracle, or so Mother Grace says. Now Rose is thrust back into the outside world with only her wits to save her. (Goodreads)


 *I received a copy of this book from the publisher. This does not affect my opinion or review in any way*

I hadn’t heard about this book really until I saw Wendy posted about/read it. Not long after, I was in line for a signing at the Ontario Library Association expo and I heard Jackie from Simon and Schuster telling someone else about this title. I tried to resist her marketing superpowers but had n0 luck. I’m glad I couldn’t, it would have been such a shame if I’d never read this book!

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know much about the experience of Canada’s First Nations people in these residential school. I knew that it was horrible, destructive to their sense of identity and culture, and something that we seemed, as a nation, determined to repress. What I learned from Black Apple was that these schools were even worse than I had ever imagined. The children and their parents were treated as lesser beings and many expected them not to amount to anything; it was a vicious, self-fulfilling prophecy for many.

I was grabbed by Rose Marie right from the beginning. She is such a feisty, lovable character and following through her hardships and life lessons only made my bond with her stronger. Seeing her grow into a young woman and have to make hew own decisions while being torn in so many different directions.

The look into the residential schools was eye-opening and heartbreaking! I had no idea what the daily experience of a child forced to attend these schools entailed and I don’t think I will ever fully understand that pain. It is a part of Canada’s history I do not know anywhere near enough about but will definitely make an effort to read up on a lot more.

The pacing, story-telling, writings, and overall feel of this book was incredible. I was shocked it took me so long to read it because I was enjoying it so much. Joan Crate writes so beautifully I have made it my new mission to read much more from her and look forward to, more than likely, adding her to my list of favourite Canadian writers.

Final Verdict: 

I wish I had more to say about this book, I really do. It’s just one of those books that I loved so much and can’t really put a finger on why. It was like history class but infinitely more interesting (I’ve had some dull Canadian History teachers, okay?) and definitely incredibly powerful and moving. I highly recommend it to anyone that loves learning about Canadian history or even just loves having their hear broken, repaired, broken again, repaired again, etc…

Gah I still have feels. Rose Marie is one tough chick and I’m so proud of her.


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