Week-end Book Review: A Stranger at Home by Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, as told to author Christy Jordan-Fenton; illustrated by Liz Amini-HolmsSaturday, November 19th, 2011
Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, as told to author Christy Jordan-Fenton; illustrated by Liz Amini-Holms,
A Stranger at Home
Annick Press, 2011.
A Stranger at Home, sequel to the authors’ award-winning 2010 Fatty Legs, is the story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s return to her Inuit family in northwest Canada after two years in a Catholic boarding school, where she learned English, ate different foods, and became unrecognizable even to her own mother. A collaboration between Margaret and her daughter-in-law, Christy Jordan-Fenton, the book captures the process of re-entry faced by anyone returning from life-changing experiences in another culture. In this book, those challenges are framed in terms of losses to the Inuit community when young people are educated in faraway boarding schools.
Unlike aboriginal Australians, who underwent similar difficulties, Margaret was not forced to leave her home on Banks Island. In fact, her father, who also had a boarding school education, had voiced reservations about her desire to leave home and learn English. He understood better than his wife how hard the transition back home would be for their daughter. Time does its healing for Margaret; she is aided by observing the alienation of another outsider in the village and by her growing compassion for his situation. In the end, she bravely agrees to return to the school to accompany her younger sisters so that she can protect them and ease their adjustment to the wider world.
Liz Amini-Holms has done the story a great service with her evocative paintings of the Inuit people in their traditional clothing and native landscape. Her soft, dark palette and slightly blurry images give an exotic yet emotionally intimate feel to the scenes she illustrates. Margaret’s family photographs add further visual documentation in an appealing presentation. Each is referenced alongside the relevant text by a small icon and a page number that indicates the corresponding full-size image in the back matter. Also included are a map of the Northwest Territories and brief biographies of the authors and illustrator. Where the text uses Inuit words, a colored box at the bottom of the page defines the term.
Young readers will find Margaret’s story both historically informative and heartbreakingly poignant.