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A Stranger at Home: A True Story by C. Jordan-Fenton & M. Pokiak-Fenton

Jordan-Fenton, Christy and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. Illus. Liz Amini-Holmes. A Stranger at Home: A True Story. Toronto: Annick Press, 2011. Print.

This straightforward and powerful sequel to Fatty Legs begins with Margaret’s return after her two year travail in residential school. Her eager anticipation quickly turns to bewilderment when she no longer feels part of her family or culture due to the changes she has been forced to undergo: English is now her first language of communication, her stomach cannot accept the once familiar foods, she is anxious about the possible damnation of her family members because of the lack of prayers in the family home.

Margaret’s memories, thoughts and experiences, captured by her daughter-in-law, are presented in an accessible and believable manner. Margaret’s father is the one stable anchor on her return to a home that has become almost as foreign to her as was the school she just left. Besides the changes in family dynamics, Margaret is also presented with concrete examples of fears of the unknown and unfamiliar in the wider community with the presence of the trapper the people call the Du-bil-ak (the devil). Margaret points out that his skin colour is similar to that of Lena Horne, her father’s favourite singer, but this does not lessen her fear of the man either.

Margaret’s major solace during this difficult year of transformation and searching for her identity is reading and rereading. As she regains her sense of herself through her reading concrete experiences with the dog team and her family, she develops the strength she needs to fulfil her father’s wishes to return to the detested school with her younger sisters.

Accompanied by colourful and expressive illustrations as well as relevant photographs, the setting and people of home are vivid and present for the reader. The footnotes supply readers with explanations of Inuit terms and cultural practices. A brief account of the practice of residential schools follows the narrative.

Highly recommended: 4 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Gail de Vos

Gail de Vos, an adjunct instructor, teaches courses on Canadian children's literature, Young Adult Literature and Comic Books and Graphic Novels at the School of Library and Information Studies for the University of Alberta and is the author of nine books on storytelling and folklore. She is a professional storyteller and has taught the storytelling course at SLIS for over two decades.