Be omnivorous, don't just read one kind of book, read everything. - Richard Wagamese

Friday, March 24, 2017

Review: Keeper'N Me by Richard Wagamese


When Garnet Raven was three years old, he was taken from his home on an Ojibway Indian reserve and placed in a series of foster homes. Having reached his mid-teens, he escapes at the first available opportunity, only to find himself cast adrift on the streets of the big city.

Having skirted the urban underbelly once too often by age 20, he finds himself thrown in jail. While there, he gets a surprise letter from his long-forgotten native family.

The sudden communication from his past spurs him to return to the reserve following his release from jail. Deciding to stay awhile, his life is changed completely as he comes to discover his sense of place, and of self. While on the reserve, Garnet is initiated into the ways of the Ojibway -- both ancient and modern -- by Keeper, a friend of his grandfather, and last fount of history about his people's ways.

By turns funny, poignant and mystical, Keeper'n Me reflects a positive view of Native life and philosophy -- as well as casting fresh light on the redemptive power of one's community and traditions.


Richard Wagamese is a "go to" author for me, I know when I open the pages that I’m going to be told a story by a powerful storyteller. Wagamese’s books are profound reads that always lead me to reflect on my own life as an indigenous person in Canada. My story is very different from Wagamese’s but I can always relate to the identity struggles and the broken and fragmented family history. When I heard that he passed away on March 10th, I was heavyhearted. I wanted to remember him but picking up a book of his that I hadn’t read, and Keeper ’N Me was what I needed.

Keeper ‘N Me is a story about struggles, the ability to power through and overcome. Garnet’s identity issues are heartbreaking. As a child, he was brought up in foster care, away from his culture, and he struggled with feeling alone. He was unsure about what it meant to be indigenous. The only people he saw that looked like him, were sitting on street corners panhandling. He didn’t even know what tribe he was from. He wanted to fit in somewhere and adopted a black lifestyle for awhile. Garnet’s character is largely based on Wagamese’s life. I also read his autobiography One Native Life, and I was able to see the similarities. Both books were captivating reads.

When Garnet is released from jail, he has the opportunity to meet his biological family and start to reconcile with them. He has a mother, brothers, a sister and extended family that have been waiting over 20 years for him to return home. They remember him as a little boy, but he has no recollection of them. The rebuilding of his relationships is gratifying. Garnet has to come to terms with his past, and decide if he wants to continue being a part of this family. It’s really his choice, and he grew up in the cities, a very different environment from being on a secluded reservation.

Overall, I loved this book and it wasn’t surprising. I haven’t picked up a Wagamese book that left me disappointed yet. His words are powerful, and his lessons are relatable. He stories touch your soul. Wagamese will be greatly missed among the indigenous community and I'm so happy that I found his books a few years ago. I think his books are for anyone who have struggled and want to overcome their situation. Life is full of ups and downs and we’re constantly learning and we have the ability to accept our past and keep growing as person.

RIP Richard Wagamese you have touched so many people, your stories will be greatly missed. 

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