So this is a first for ivereadthis: a book review of a graphic novel! And what a perfect book to start off this trend: The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson, art by Kelly Mellings. Powerful, this book is so powerful, and very necessary.

It tells the story of Pete, a young Aboriginal man who comes from a family with a violent and drug-filled history. We meet drug dealing Pete just before he goes into jail;  he’s convicted of manslaughter for shooting his mother’s boyfriend because he discovers they had sold all their meagre belongings to pay for more drugs, which led to the assault. What I found overwhelmingly sad about this situation was the fact that it’s such a common story for many Aboriginal men and women in Canada, those who live on and off reserves. Luckily, Pete is given the opportunity to attend a rehabilitation program created to help the many Aboriginal men in this situation, drawing upon wisdom from their culture, and teaching them how to use it in a modern day society. This program actually exists in Alberta, which is an uplifting fact to be aware of. From there, Pete learns about how to ‘break the cycle’ and become a responsible member of society again.

Smokey is mulling over what she just read
Smokey is mulling over what she just read

So why is this book so ‘important’? It’s well-written, beautifully illustrated, and engaging for all age groups, so at the very least, it’s a great piece of art in its own right. But this story in particular is a must-read for all Canadians (which is one reason it made the Canada Reads list!), because it very clearly lays out some of the root causes of the Aboriginal struggle with residential schools. I’ve talked about this topic in a past blog, so I won’t re-hash it here, but what many Canadians don’t understand, or are unwilling to empathize with, is how this affects generations of Aboriginal families, not just the people who were sent to these schools.  The picture below was taken from the book, which is something I think every Canadian needs to see. It depicts the legacy of various kinds of abuse within one Aboriginal family and the trickle-down effect it has on its members.

the key to the map is probably the most disturbing thing about this family tree
the key to the map is probably the most disturbing thing about this family tree

I was lucky enough to study Aboriginal literature in school, so I learned about the cycles of abuse there, but I think so many people are either un-educated, or don’t care enough about this problem to properly understand and empathize with this particular struggle. It’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation. And what’s great about this book, is it offers us a very typical, yet engaging look at the problems these people have, and a concrete, practical way to help them.

So read this book because it will put you in someone else’s shoes, and you’ll also get the added benefit of that immersive experience that a graphic novel like this offers. Yes, this book is a must-read for all Canadians, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it, because you will! What’s even better is that both Benson and Mellings are Albertan, so you’ll be reading local too.

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