This is a transcript of Recommended Season 4 Episode 2.
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This is Recommended, where we talk to interesting people about their favorite books. In today’s episode, author Waubgeshig Rice and blogger Janssen Bradshaw each talk about a favorite teen novel.
Waubgeshig Rice is an author and journalist originally from Wasauksing First Nation. His first short story collection, Midnight Sweatlodge, was inspired by his experiences growing up in an Anishinaabe community, and won an Independent Publishers Book Award in 2012. His debut novel, Legacy, followed in 2014. His most recent novel, Moon of the Crusted Snow, follows a small northern Anishinaabe community who become cut off from the rest of the world, only to find out that the rest of the world is falling apart.
My name is Waubgeshig Rice and “The Lesser Blessed” by Richard Van Camp is my recommended.
“The Lesser Blessed” is a book about a young indigenous teen named Larry. He’s Dogrib, who lives in the Northwest Territories in a fictional place called Fort Simmer. The story sort of follows his journey through high school and some of the specific challenges he faces as an indigenous teen. And just with some past traumas that he’s endured in trying to reconcile those with the everyday dreams that everyday youth have. I guess just trying to fit in and trying to find a way forward, because he’s well aware of his unique position in this world, as a Dogrib teen, as someone who is indigenous in a changing world around them. He has a lot of the similar hopes and dreams that other youth do, but he’s also seeking something more. He’s seeking a greater understanding, not only of himself, but also the world around him.
It came out in 1996 I believe, while i was in high school. That was one of my last years in high school, and I didn’t know about it then. I was sort of only discovering books by indigenous authors at that point. These were books that weren’t taught in school, whatsoever, where I grew up. I think indigenous literature was by and large absent from Canadian curricula back in the mid to late 1990’s, while I was in high school. I wasn’t exposed to any indigenous authors at all while I was going through my secondary education. Fortunately, some friends and family, one aunt in particular, my Aunt Elaine, exposed me to a lot of the great story tellers who were out there writing books at the time. Like Thomas King, and Lee Maracle, Richard Wagamese, Louise Erdrich, authors like that.
So I hadn’t come across Richard Van Camp’s work at that point, but as this world began to open up for me, I became aware of him and his work as well as many other authors at the time. I had known of him and I’d known of “The Lesser Blessed.” It was highly recommended in those circles of indigenous story tellers and authors. So, yeah, it was probably about 10 years after it came out. Maybe in my mid to late twenties, that I finally tracked down a copy and read it. It blew me away.
Along with its genuine candid and really raw voice, it’s a very compact story. It’s a short novel of only maybe like 120 or so pages. I was just starting on my own writing journey at the time. I had a short story collection that I wanted to get published. It was very short too, and I think the mythology around becoming an author is that, “Oh, you need something epic, or you need something big that people can really chew on. You really spend time with it.” I sort of had some doubts about whether I could be a bonafide or authentic author, because I had such short material, essentially, like this short story collection I was working on was really, really short. But I read “The Lesser Blessed”, which was a short novel, and I said, “Okay, if the story’s good, if it’s authentic and if it resonates with everybody, it doesn’t really matter how long it is.” So, that really encouraged me at that point, by the time I read it to start pursuing my own literary dreams.
Reading Richard Van Camp’s, “The Lesser Blessed”, sort of in juxtaposition to the main stream works that were out there, really showed me that you don’t always necessarily have to play by the rules. There isn’t one format. There isn’t one sort of journey towards becoming a published author. There are many different ways to go about it.
I think those lines have been blurred more and more, now a days, in that there’s a growing appetite to hear from more, quote unquote, marginalized voices, who are doing things their own way. Who are being authentic and really staying true to themselves and their cultures and their communities, and sort of breaking away from the stereotypical format that we learn in high school and university about what fiction is supposed to be.
I started writing while I was in high school, but it was more or less creative outlet. You know, I had time to pass when I was at home from school, like in the evenings and on the weekends. I grew up on a reserve that was right beside a town, so it was not isolated by any means, but the community itself is so spread out. It’s on an island, a really big island. It’s not like we had neighbors close by. The house I grew up in was basically right in the middle of the bush. And these were the days, obviously, before internet. We couldn’t get cable TV out there because it was too far away from town. So, I was left to find ways to pass the time and try to be creative. Because at a pretty young age I really became engaged by story telling, oral story telling, because it’s part of my Anishinaabe culture, that was one thing that really got me interested into who I was and in my background. But by the time I got to high school, I became more interested in sort of the written word and how literature worked and the literary works that were out there that we learned in school. Also, the creative writing aspect of English class in high school, really appealed to me, too.
I had these tools, I guess, to try to be creative, in a different way, and yeah, I just wrote short stories for fun whenever I got home from school or whenever I had time on the weekend. What I liked to write a lot about was just some of the things happening around me, because at that age I was well aware that being indigenous in Canada was a pretty unique experience that not a lot of non-indigenous people were familiar with. I would write about the funny things that me and my cousins would do, or yeah, just some of the unique scenarios that would come up on the Res. Never having any intention of getting it published, because I didn’t know that that was an option. Again, because I didn’t know that there were actual indigenous authors out there, blazing trails and getting these crucial canonical works published. You know, now a days, these are books that are in the canon of indigenous literature.
I think by the time I got to University and started pursuing it a little more and becoming more aware of indigenous authors, I began to put some pieces together and figure out how I may be able to eventually get published. I sought out some arts grants and you know sought mentors too, essentially. So the path to being published happened a lot later, but again, if I had been able to read a book specifically about the indigenous teen experience, while I was a teen myself, and saw that it was written by a young indigenous person as well, I might have pursued that dream a little earlier and maybe a little more strongly.
I’ve come to realize that dream in the end, and for that I’m hugely thankful.
There are moments in “The Lesser Blessed” where Larry shares some of the stories of his Dogrib culture, and some of the more traditional or intergenerational stories that a lot of indigenous cultures employ to pass down culture and to make people aware of who they are.
Especially when I was younger, I didn’t see how my Anishinaabe culture would fit on the written page or whether there was space for my culture or some of the older stories that shaped me, in a book. Because we’re told from a very young age that our culture and our beliefs and our traditions are passed down orally, from generation to generation. They don’t need to be written down, because they’ve maintained despite some brutal acts of colonialism and assimilation, and other very violent measures. So, I didn’t know if there was a place for culture and tradition from an indigenous perspective in a book, but by seeing that happen in “The Lesser Blessed”, it sort of opened my eyes to the potential of documenting some of these things in these ways. Just by having an indigenous protagonist who’s proud of his back ground, expressed that, so profoundly and so strongly in a narrative, inspired me to do that with a lot of my characters as well.
It’s something that I’ve sort of hung on to since the beginning and made sure to make a point of, to sort of use that culture as an anchor, for every protagonist that I write, in order to have their feet firmly planted in something that gives them hope, despite everything happening around them.
I saw the movie adaptation more recently, I think within the last five years. It was awesome to see how it was represented on the screen. I thought it was beautifully done. It was brilliantly acted and directed and just to see this community in this unique situation. I saw it in a big movie theater, right, like it’s just where you’d see the normal blockbusters, this is while I was living in Ottawa. So I thought, this is awesome. I could never imagine doing this when I was a teenager. Going to a big multiplex in a big city and seeing an authentically indigenous story on the screen in front of me.
If I were to put together an elevator pitch for “The Lesser Blessed,” I would say, “If you want to understand what it’s like to be a young indigenous person on this land right now, read ‘The Lesser Blessed,’ by Richard Van Camp, because it shows what so many indigenous youth are experiencing now a days, in terms of reconciling their customs and traditions and beliefs with a changing world around them, yet staying true to themselves and speaking their voices, loudly and proudly.”
Thanks again to Waubgeshig Rice for joining us and recommending The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp. Moon of the Crusted Snow, published by ECW Press, is available wherever books are sold. You can follow him on Twitter at waub, that’s w a u b.
Janssen Bradshaw is the author of Everyday Reading, a site for book-loving parents. A children’s librarian turned mom to four little girls, she shares recommendations for picture books and books for grown-ups on her blog and Instagram so no one ever has to be stuck with a big pile of sub-par reading material. Janssen and her husband live with their daughters in Provo, Utah where Janssen always has all their library cards maxed out.
My name is Janssen Bradshaw and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han is my recommended.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, follows Lara Jean who is the middle of three sisters being raised by their dad because their mom died when Lara Jean was fairly young and Lara Jean is kind of your typical middle child differing to her very typical older sister who is now about to go off to college. So, Lara Jean is fairly uncomfortable about now being the older daughter at home and trying to keep the house running which her sister did very smoothly and she’s also very close to her older sister and her older sister’s going to school in Ireland.
So, losing her sister feels really scary and worrisome and her also complicated about the fact that her sister has been dating for the last several years, the boy next door, Lara Jean has a massive crush on. And then if that isn’t complicated enough, Lara Jean has a type of, every time she’s had a crush on someone where she’s kind of ready to move on, she writes a kind of goodbye love letter so with all the reasons she’s loved them but now why she doesn’t love them anymore and she keeps these in a hat box and those letters get mailed out. And so each of these boys from her past kind of start coming out of the woodwork to ask, “I have this letter, and I don’t really know what to make of that.”
But the most worrisome is that the boy next door, her sister’s boyfriend is getting one also so when he asks her about it, she pretends to be dating one of the other boys who got a letter, Peter Kavinsky and they have this fake relationship to keep the sister’s boyfriend from knowing that she really actually likes him.
I read the first one, so there’s three books in the series now, the first one came out some time in 2014 and I had read some Jenny Han’s books including, The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy so I knew this was sort of on my radar because I kind of kept track of what other things she was writing and this one … you know I liked her other books but this one just was the most liked book, I read it in about a day and a half and it was just so fun and I just loved everything about it.
It had been a while since I read them but when the third one came out, I felt like I went back and read all three of them again and I started talking about them by a bit on Instagram and they just kind of became this big thing where one of my goals with everyday reading is always to recommend books that are really fun to read and it makes people who have either never had the experience of falling in love with the book or who haven’t now busy with adult life has not had that experience in a long time, remember that.
This book has been my slam dunk to make that happen where I have had hundreds of readers send me messages saying, “I was super dubious about this book but you talk about it so often and so much that I finally took it out and I read the whole trilogy in two and a half days and I’ve forgotten what it felt like to read like this and just love a book, so that’s been really fun.”
I would say that elevator pitch is not my strong point, gushing is definitely more my wheel house but I usually just say this is the kind of book that make me remember all the best parts of being a teenager and that high school crush and it’s just so, who knows how this is going to play out, kind of magic that even as an adult is still fun to read, in sort of just going, ah teenagers.
My very favorite scene is where Peter comes over to Lara Jean’s house and is just hanging out with Lara Jean and her younger sister, Kitty and they show him this dance that they made up when they were kids, it’s completely choreographed, synchronized and he’s just dying laughing over the whole thing, it’s just such a fun, happy, sweet thing that you can actually imagine happening, I just love every part of that.
So, I love a good line romance but I also love that this one is very funny too, there lots of laughs out loud funny lines to me which for me is just a perfect marriage of romance and comedy there and I just love how sweet it is. A lot of my readers are looking for books that aren’t gritty or have a lot of adult content even though most of my readers are adult and so I like this one because I feel like it really has broad appeal, not only to me but also the people that are looking to me for recommendations.
I used to read a lot of young adults books and over the last probably five years not as much and so this one felt like the kind of thing I used to read a lot of. The kind of the fun throw back to what more of my reading life used to look like and less of what it does now which is kind of one the reasons it was so delightful for me.
I feel like the character development is so good in these books and one of the reasons that I love … you know the first book and then all the books is that although it is a romance, there’s such great character development of Lara Jean aside from just her interest in Josh, the boy next door and her fake boyfriend, Peter that I wanted to see what was going to happen next with her even if the storyline had somewhat wrapped up by the first one.
I think she does such a good job of making all of the books feel like a little peek into her life not just a standalone like everything was wrapped up kindly with a bow and so you never need to know anything else. But also not I don’t love a cliffhanger book or one that kind of feels very nebulous at the ending so I feel like she just hit that balance perfectly of, it feels satisfying at the end but you also … the idea of another book is very thrilling.
I love the movie and as soon as they announced a release date, I actually hosted a viewing party and I invited a bunch of my readers who are local to come which was so fun. I mean, you know when you go to a movie in the theater, there’s kind of that buzz of being there with an audience that laughs at the right time, and oh at the right time and it was that experience and way more fun than just watching at home or in bed or on my couch. And that was so magical and I got all sorts of treats related to the books. There were Pocky sticks and there were little yogurt drinks and cookies because she’s a big baker. It was just … it just made the whole thing so much better and of course I was a little nervous because I had not seen the movie yet because I had the viewing party the day that came out so there was a risk that it would be truly terrible.
And I had invited 35 people to watch a really awful movie with me but it was … I thought it was so well done. I was so happy with virtually every part of, I thought the cast was spot on, I thought they really captured the kind of heart of the movie, it was funny, it was romantic. It was pretty much perfect, I was super happy with that and as soon as they announced that they’re making a movie of the second one, PS I Still Love You, I got so many messages, “Are you hosting another party?” And I’m absolutely hosting another party.
I think so many adults remember those fun, exiting first love kind of … one of things of high school that none of us would ever want to go back to but fun things too and I think that kind of such a nostalgic feeling as an adult that’s really fun. I also read an interesting article after the movie came out that talked about.
I think it was Jenny Han saying that she felt like there hadn’t … that kind of the 90s were the heyday romantic comedy movies, While You Were Sleeping and You’ve Got Mail, that are just fun and delightful and sweet and that she felt like since then and a lot of them had been kind of more gritty or dark or heartbreaking or whatever and that she wanted All The Boys I’ve Loved Before to have kind of that throwback feeling of just pretty much total delight romantic comedy which I think she nailed and I never would have thought of that on my own but hearing her say that, I thought, oh she is so right, this has that same sort of feel as those movies that I grew up with.
Thanks again to Janssen Bradshaw for joining us and recommending To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. You can get more recommendations from Bradshaw on everyday-reading.com.
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