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Surviving the City (The Debwe Series)

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  436 ratings  ·  104 reviews
Tasha Spillett’s graphic novel debut, Surviving the City, is a story about womanhood, friendship, colonialism, and the anguish of a missing loved one. Miikwan and Dez are best friends. Miikwan is Anishinaabe; Dez is Inninew. Together, the teens navigate the challenges of growing up in an urban landscape – they’re so close, they even completed their Berry Fast together. ...more
Paperback, 56 pages
Published March 1st 2019 by HighWater Press
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David Schaafsma
Aug 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
There are several crises going on in the world right now, of course, all of which demand your immediate attention, but this is one you really have to know more about if you don’t already. An alarming number of indigenous women and girls are disappearing (presumably murdered) in Canada and the U.S in the last few years. Yes, people are murdered and disappear every day, but the rates are shocking. And many who seem to be targets are from the queer community.

This Wikipedia article will get you up
Surviving the City is a graphic novel that follows Dez and Miikwan, two teen friends who live in Winnipeg. Dez is facing being placed in a group home because her grandmother is becoming too ill to care for her any longer. Miikwan's mother is one of the many missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.

I really liked the way this story showed the girls just living life -- going to school, hitting up the mall, working on a class project -- but still highlights some of the common plights faced
According to the RCMP, ten percent of women in Canada who have been missing for at least 30 days are Indigenous.

Indigenous women are five times more likely to be murdered than non-Indigenous women.

So, this graphic novel, about two indigenous girls, who live in the city, is very sad, and very true. Surviving in the city is hard when you are a target.

I love how the spirits of the dead hang around the indigenous peoples, but the white people have an alien spirit that hangs around them. Very to the
Jul 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
"Nice" Canada has a long history of abuse and murder of its indigenous peoples. And it's not in the past; there are countless, current examples, including the many First Nations women who have disappeared and are murdered every year.
This story follows two young women over a few days. Miikwan's mother is dead, Dez lives with her kokum (grandmother), her only family. Dez is scared because her kokum is ill and Dez could be separated from her. The two young women are very close, and over the course
Rod Brown
Jul 03, 2019 rated it liked it
An important attempt to draw attention to the missing and murdered Indigenous women epidemic in Canada.

The writing has some shortcomings, leaving things like berry fasts and smudging unexplained for ignorant readers like myself, ending in an abrupt and muddled manner, and having an afterword that may have been more useful as an introduction. Mostly, at 54 pages it just felt too short to do the subject justice.

What I did find effective was the presence of the spirits of female ancestors providing
Jan 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Realistic story about the inequitable challenges facing Indigenous youth in North America today.

When one best friend disappears, the one left behind finds herself faced with the realities of missing Indigenous people.

I love the provenance of this book, the ownvoices ness. Glad for the representation, specifically in the GN medium. Keep making more!
Jul 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: graphic-novels
This review can also be found on my blog:

This is a short but powerful graphic novel about two young First Nations women in Canada that face the perils of being Indigenous in the city together.

Best friends at school, Miikwan is Anishinaabe, while Dez is Inninew. The two high schoolers bond is so tight that they completed a berry fast together, which is a rite of womanhood in their tribes. Despite their close friendship, they have each faced great trauma in
Tasha Spillet writes with the kind of raw voice that indigenous girls deserve to hear. Surviving the City takes the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit, and she brings that to life in a story that doesn't just focus MMIWG2.

I think what I really admire about Surviving the City is that Spillet is able to tell the story of two girls, Miikwan (Anishinaabe) and Dez (Inninew), just being girls while living in a world that just can't handle indigenous girls getting to
Dec 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Adults and teens.
Recommended to Helen by: No-one.
Shelves: native-americans
This Canadian (YA) graphic novel deals with a pair of school friends - girls in HS - who are dealing with the stress and horror of missing women in the First Nations community, including knowing females who have gone missing. The book can be read as an instructional tale for young women to be extremely careful since there are perils all over - strangers who wish to take advantage of Native American girls etc.

One of the friends disappears momentarily, because of stress at home, which leads to
Barbara McEwen
3.5 stars - I loved the connection between the two main characters and think it did a great job of making you feel the scariness and realness of the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. I felt it was a bit short and choppy though. I am hoping future instalments will flush everything out because there is a lot of goodness here.
Sarah Wiwchar
Nov 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
4.5? I don't think it has to go into YA. It mentions moon time and MMIWG2S but it's not super graphic so I think it's fine?

Update: it has been suggested I keep this in the YA section of my school library (access limited to grade 7 and 8 or younger students with parental permission).
Amy Layton
Neocolonialism runs rampant in urban Canada. Social workers threaten to tear apart families, indigenous faith is relocated to a high school's prayer room, and every white man who offers food, warmth, comfort--is just another threat.

With warm tones and a plotline that cuts straight to the heart of some pressing issues today in Canada,Surviving the City makes for a great graphic novel about what it means to be indigenous today. When every white man is a threat, when every government agent is a
Dec 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Okay. So this is an important graphic novel that takes on a tough topic. I liked the art, and I felt for the characters, and because I want people to read it, I'm going with four stars. But this is not a place to start if you are unfamiliar with the current missing and murdered indigenous women crisis. There is little background given, and unless someone is aware that this is a huge problem, in native communities, this book is not going to enlighten them. It assumes knowledge. Not necessarily a ...more
Dec 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A moving debut graphic novel about two young girls growing up in Winnipeg. A great novel if you are discussing MMIWG2S and Canada's treatment of Indigenous people in your classroom. Already the winner of several awards it is also nominated for the Red Maple Award (chosen by students) and will be one I use in my classroom in the new year.
Good short graphic novel that follows two Indigenous teenage girls in Canada. It's a story about friendship and separation - but its backdrop is the huge problem of missing and murdered Indigenous women (stolen sisters). I wish this was longer and discussed the girls' berry fast + full moon + learning about their heritage from their families but I will just have to Google more about this.
Excellent comic book about the issue of MMIWG2S (Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two Spirit People. I love how the girls' ancestors are shown following and protecting them from the ill intentions of people guided by malicious spirits (depicted as aliens). Definitely consider this one for a discussion group or class. There is some back matter about the topic with resources, statistics, and a list of further reading.
Mar 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
A short but worthwhile & heartwrenching read. There’s also lots of good info at the end for additional MMIWG2S reading, resources, and statistics.

Read during a volunteer shift at the Canadian Comics Open Library.
This is a haunting and well-done graphic novel, highly recommend.
Kristina Jean Lareau
3.5 stars

An important message and a voice we need more if in graphic novels.
Dec 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 3-star
Enjoyed but was ultimately forgettable for me.
Dec 15, 2019 rated it did not like it
Surviving the City by Tasha Spillett tells a story of heritage, danger, and true friendship. I didn't really enjoy this book because the plot was kind of all over the place, but the overall message it sends is really great.
Aliza Werner
This short graphic novel packs a punch and lays the groundwork for further learning, discussion, and research. The MCs are Indigenous girls from the Anishinaabe and Inninew nations. The story is linked together by the movement surrounding the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two Spirit People (MMIWG2S). This #OwnVoices story’s author is part of the Nehiyaw nation, and the illustrator is Métis.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This was very interesting, it mainly focuses on the issues surrounding being an indigenous woman and the way indigenous women are treated. I'd vaguely heard of the "no more stolen sisters" campaign but I haven't really done any research into it and I didn't know much about it, basically it's a campaign to stop discrimination and violence against indigenous women, since there is a much higher likelihood of going
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow! Every library needs this graphic novel. Set in Winnipeg, it follows Miikwan and Dez, two best friends navigating life in the city. I love how the author wrapped these girls with their ancestors and embedded cultural teachings within the story. I think many of our students will find themselves in these pages. The book also deals with missing and murdered Indigenous women in a very age appropriate and accessible way. The story teaches safety and where to go for help. I can’t wait to see what ...more
Jul 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: comics
For such a short graphic novel (50 pages!) this does an excellent job of balancing the main characters as modern girls who are steeped in their heritage, who are deeply affected by the epidemic of violence against indigenous women. It sounds like a lot, but Spillett has a deft hand with the details that establish the characters while leaving much of the space to simply showcasing the big issue. Things like the girls posting about their berry fast on social media, for example. Sure, it's brief, ...more
Ellen Bees
Jun 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Surviving the City, written by Tasha Spillett and illustrated by Natasha Donovan, tells the story of two girls dealing with the dangers of growing up Indigenous in Winnipeg. When main character Dez's grandmother becomes sick, she runs away to avoid being placed in foster care. Her disappearance deeply impacts her friend Miikwan, bringing up memories of her own missing mother. The focus on this topic is particularly resonant with the recent release of the Final Report of the National Inquiry into ...more
Jan 01, 2019 rated it did not like it
Surviving the City is a short graphic novel written by First Nations (of Canada) author Tasha Spillet and illustrator Natasha Donovan. Dez and Miikwan (also First Nations peoples) are best friends who are like sisters to one another. However, when Dez's grandmother's diabetes becomes too advanced, she learns that she will have to move into a group home. This devastates the two girls, prompting Dez to run away from home. When Dez's grandma and Miikwan realize Dez hasn't come home/hasn't been ...more
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
quite a stunning book! I found it a bit hard to follow (keeping characters separate from each other). It follows the life of two friends--Milkwan & Dez. Each face their own challenges. Dez, specifically, worries what will happen to her if her grandmother is no longer able to care for her.

I loved how supportive not only Milkwan & Dez were of each other but how generations of women support each other.

Sex? No but there is a protest involved called No More Stolen Sisters. It's to bring
Maggie Librarian
Sep 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Two indigenous young women, best friends, and high school students, live in the city. They rely on each other and support each other, in keeping their traditions alive (they reminisce on getting through their berry fasts together). But when one's grandmother gets sick, and it looks like she might be taken away and into foster care, the reader starts to get a real idea of how vulnerable she is.

The comic is filled with spirits and specters, many of whom are malevolent. These malevolent creatures
This is a succinct snapshot of city life for Indigenous teen girls Miikwan and Dez, showing how the big issue topics play out in the day-to-day lives of teens today, from the residential school system / modern child services to missing and murdered Indigenous women/girls/two spirit people to colonialism and living amidst the constant presence of casual racism. The illustrations are haunting, showing the ghosts of so many missing and murdered milling about the city, as well as the spectres of ...more
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TASHA SPILLETT-SUMNER (she/her/hers) draws her strength from both her Nehiyaw and Trinidadian bloodlines. She is a celebrated educator, poet, and emerging scholar. Tasha is most heart-tied to contributing to community-led work that centres on land and water defence, and the protection of Indigenous women and girls. Tasha is currently working on her PhD in Education through the University of ...more