Louise's Reviews > A Stranger at Home

A Stranger at Home by Christy Jordan-Fenton
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's review
Feb 09, 12

bookshelves: memoirs
Read in February, 2012

Story Description:

The powerful memoir of an Inuvialuit girl searching for her true self when she returns from residential school.
Traveling to be reunited with her family in the Arctic, 10-year-old Margaret Pokiak can hardly contain her excitement. It's been two years since her parents delivered her to the school run by the dark-cloaked nuns and brothers.
Coming ashore, Margaret spots her family, but her mother barely recognizes her, screaming, "Not my girl." Margaret realizes she is now marked as an outsider.
And Margaret is an outsider: she has forgotten the language and stories of her people, and she can't even stomach the food her mother prepares.
However, Margaret gradually relearns her language and her family's way of living. Along the way, she discovers how important it is to remain true to the ways of her people -- and to herself.
Highlighted by archival photos and striking artwork, this first-person account of a young girl's struggle to find her place will inspire young readers to ask what it means to belong.

My Review:

Olemaun Pokiak was named for a stone that sharpens a knife and it is an Inuit name.

In Tuktoyaktuk Olemaun is looking for her family who she hadn’t seen for a long time. As she disembarks from the boat she recognized her mother’ voice and looked up. She saw her two-year-old brother, Ernest, strapped to her mother’s back and her sisters, Mabel age 7, and Elizabeth age 8. Her father wasn’t with them. Her mother didn’t recognize Olemaun and refused to come toward her, she hadn’t seen her for two years.

Olemaun and her family lived on Banks Island in the Arctic. Olemaun has been away at school in Aklavik. She was desperate for her mother to recognize her and stared at her but her mother kept repeating: “Not my girl. Not my girl.” Olemaun blamed the brothers, priests and nun at the school she was attending for her mother’s non-recognition for they had turned her from a: “…plump, round-faced girl her mother knew into a skinny gaunt creature” through the chores she did and the type of food she had to eat. They had also cut her long hair short. Olemaun was now ten-years-old and taller than when she left. Suddenly her father showed up in the crowd, recognized her, and hugged her tight. Her father called her Olemaun, it was the first time she’d heard her name in two years as the teachers at the school called her Margaret.

Once home in their tent Olemaun realizes she is no longer “Olemaun” but “Margaret” the English speaking girl from the school. She has forgotten her mother language and doesn’t seem to fit in with her family anymore. She can’t communicate with them, can’t eat the food she grew up with, no longer has any friends, and struggles to regain all that she has lost.

This is a wonderful memoir for children. They will learn a lot about the people of the North. Even in my 50’s I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed the book. At only 126 pages it was a quick read complete with illustrations and about ten pages of actual photographs at the end of the book.
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