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The Barren Grounds

(The Misewa Saga #1)

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,452 ratings  ·  307 reviews
Narnia meets traditional Indigenous stories of the sky and constellations in an epic middle grade fantasy series from award-winning author David Robertson.

Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous children forced away from their families and communities, are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They each feel disconnected, from their culture and each other, and st
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published September 8th 2020 by Puffin Books
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Average rating 4.03  · 
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Lindsi (Do You Dog-ear?)
"When you take more than the land can provide, it stops giving."

I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts and opinions are my own. Any quotes I use are from an unpublished copy and may not reflect the finished product.

I really wanted to love this book, but everything that happened in The Barren Grounds was just way too convenient. I had to suspend my disbelief often. Morgan would yell and lose her temper, only to realize seconds later that she was wrong and p
Jun 02, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
[3.5 stars]

Pitched as a cross between The Chronicles of Narnia and Indigenous folklore, The Barren Grounds tells the story of Morgan and Eli, two children who happen upon a magical world in the attic of their foster home.

I don't normally read much middle grade—not because I have anything against it but because I am not usually seeking it out in my reading life. However, when I stumbled upon this book in a little free library near my home it immediately caught my attention. I do plan to return
Provided gratis in exchange for honest feedback.

So.... I have mixed feelings about this one.
I loved the setting and I loved the story. I genuinely enjoyed the dream-like state of everything: the Narnia of it all.

I liked most of the characters (be warned: Morgan is very Book-5-Harry-Potter or maybe Edmund Pevensie is a better analog).

I did read the book in one sitting and in just a couple of hours. The writing consistently pulled me out of the story, but I always -- always -- dove right back in
Jenna (Falling Letters)
Review originally published 4 Sept. 2020 at Falling Letters.

I first encountered Robertson’s work about eight years ago, during my undergrad uni days studying children’s literature. Courses with topics such as graphic novels and Indigenous literature highlighted his work.. At that time, Robertson was making an impression in the local comics scene. Since then, he’s reached various ages via various formats, with titles such as the Governor General award-winning picture book When We Were Alone ,
Oct 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Exceptional middle-grade novel. I’m considering adopting it as a whole-class readaloud.
Kate Olson
Jul 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Middle grade Indigenous adventure / fantasy MAGIC. A fellow reader recommended this as a perfect swap for, or comparison to, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and that was spot on. The messages in this story about the horrors inflicted by Whites upon Indigenous peoples in Canada, as well as the horrors inflicted upon the natural world by Whites, are blatant but expertly woven into a riveting story of an attic portal into a different dimension. I can’t wait to see what Robertson does next in ...more
Erin || erins_library
(Gifted by Puffin books and Netgalley)

I adored this middle grade book by David Alexander Robertson (Norway House Cree Nation). It’s the first book in a series and is being compared to the Chronicles of Narnia. And there are definitely similar elements (portal to another world with talking animals, endless winter, orphaned children, etc.), but I think the story itself had different themes and messages. I love that Robertson made a couple of Narnia jokes in the story, and in a way addressing it. T
Feb 09, 2021 rated it liked it
I really wanted to love The Barren Grounds, but I can honestly say that it was, at best, okay. Here's what I liked:
Local author, with several references to Winnipeg and Winnipeg locations. Go Winnipeg!
The main characters are foster children (all students deserve to see themselves represented in literature);
The story uses (and makes light reference to) the Narnia plot structure, and retells an Indigenous legend...all very meta;
The main characters are Indigenous (ag
Nov 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book was so beautiful and, despite its extreme wintery setting, filled with so much warmth. While very Narnia-like, it felt as if there was more meaning, more heart, behind this story, thanks to a very powerful mix of hope and urgency, and a message we not only need to learn or re-learn, but respect.

I read this sitting by a fireplace, a dog curled in my lap, and although I could have done without the snow coming down outside, this book wisely reminded me that we can’t steal and keep summer
Tiffanie Dang
Oct 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for sending me an ARC to review!

I haven’t read many books by Canadian authors, especially about Indigenous characters, but I can definitely say that I’ll be reading more from this author! I felt the Narnia vibes throughout this entire book and really enjoyed the interwoven Cree Nation stories about the sky and constellations in this fun middle-grade adventure. Although Morgan is an angry girl for most of the beginning of the book, she does start to thaw, whic
Sep 01, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: middle-grade, fantasy
Finding a portal into another world is the dream of every kid. For Morgan and Eli, a well-drawn sketch of the Barren Lands transports the two into a parallel world in need of their help. The Barren Lands are in perpetual winter and its walking, talking animals are running out of food. Morgan and Eli stay to help find the Green Time and return the birds who were taken by the last human visitor. The promise of a Narnia-level allegory just did not come through in my opinion. This is most certainly ...more
Nov 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is the middle grade+ portal fantasy we need right now. Morgan and Eli, Cree teens, reconnect with their culture and stories through a portal in the attic of their foster home. They enter Aski, the Barren Grounds, and set out on a danger-fraught quest with hind legs walking and talking creatures. The adventure follows the story of the Fisher and creation of what I previously only knew as the Big Dipper constellation. “The wind was hard and strong, the grass and leaves were covered with snow, ...more
Maggie (Magsisreadingagain)
This was a refreshing MG story, delving into difficult topics with a balance of humor and emotions. Paying tribute to Cree storytelling traditions and legends, Robertson introduces Morgan and Eli, two teens living in a foster home, and struggling to form and maintain a personal identity. Morgan’s love of fantasy novels and Eli’s artistic talent lead them into an alternate world, where they help Ochek and Arik to reset the natural order of being. This story takes the difficult topics of living in ...more
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Oh gosh, this book is so amazing! I have so much to say, but I don’t think I could ever do it justice. Iam beyond words.

This is the story of Morgan and Eli, First Nation teenagers living in a foster home. Morgan is thirteen, angry and frustrated most of the time; she’s not afraid to let’s her thoughts and opinions known. Eli is twelve and is new to the foster home and to the school; he is quiet by nature and a talented artist.

Katie and James are their new foster parents. They seem like good peop
Jul 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020myrca
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

This is the type of book I've been waiting to read. It's an ownvoices story by a Canadian Indigenous writer that's inspired by Narnia but based on traditional stories. It's humorous while still dealing with issues such as the foster system, identity, and the consequences of taking something that doesn't belong to you. It's a deep and meaningful story but doesn't come across as overly heavy. Writing this story as a fantasy is a uni
Oct 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: middle-grade
When I heard about The Barren Grounds, I was beyond intrigued. The publisher described this as, "Narnia meets traditional Indigenous stories of the sky and constellations." As a child, I grew up listening to C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, and so I was extremely interested to see what this story would be like.

Listening to The Barren Grounds as an audiobook was a mesmerizing experience full of symbolism and adventure that I listened almost straight through. It's a story I won't soon forge
Amie's Book Reviews
THE BARREN GROUNDS is the first in a series of Middle-Grade Indigenous/Fantasy novels. The series is titled THE MISEWA SAGA and has a Narnia-esque theme.

The story begins with Morgan, an angry preteen Indigenous girl who was placed into the foster care system as a toddler. That system is all she knows, and, as is often the case in real life, her experiences in foster care have not been pleasant.

Placed with a young couple who are new to foster parenting, Morgan resists all attempts at bonding be
I had this billed to me as "Indigenous Narnia" and I was like, heck yes! It does deliver on that concept, as 2 Canadian First Nations kids, Morgan and Eli, who are not siblings by birth but have both been taken in as foster kids by the same white couple. Morgan has been through a bunch of different foster homes and is an Angry Young Lady, while Eli is shy and likes drawing. Anyway he draws a magic portal and both kids travel through the paper where they end up on a quest to save a land that's be ...more
Annie Palumbo
Jan 11, 2021 rated it liked it
Really important representation buried inside of a sub-par story.
Melanie McFarlane
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
A beautiful story that sweeps us into another realm, filled with survival and family ties. A timely and excellent middle grade read.
Nargis  Kalani
"On the barren grounds
It took facing my worse fears
Stepping out into the night
To find that I was brave enough
Before I found the light

It took stars within the sky
To guide my way back home
That I'll always know the way
Wherever I might roam"

Thank you so much Netgalley, author David Alexander Robertson, Hear our voices tours for this E-ARC.

When I read the synopsis, this book had me intrigued. Narnia meets traditional indigenous stories of the sky and constellations? Count me in. Also, the cover wa
Dec 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Alaina got this book in her OwlCrate and I read it aloud to everyone. We all enjoyed it and I appreciate reading work from an indigenous author on indigenous themes.
Jan 09, 2021 rated it liked it
Good YA novel building an interesting world. Not Narnia, but intriguing.
Nov 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

This is an accessible and beautiful foray into Native American (or, since it's Canadian, First Nations) mythology and identity. Part fantasy, part middle-grades-coming-of-age, part celebration of native voices.
Nicole Wagner
May 29, 2020 rated it liked it
This is an Indigenous fable sandwiched by an after-school special about Indigenous foster kids.

This novel has been compared to the Narnia as well as the Redwall books. The Narnia books were, for me, powerfully written allegories. They made me laugh and cry. I had a hard time, on the other hand, making it through any of the Redwall books. I love animals, and I love talking animals, and I love fantasy, but the Redwall books for me were a bit shallow and quaint. Talking animals doesn't make a stor
Mar 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I was very excited for this middle years novel and it did not disappoint. The journey of the main character both physically and emotionally is heart wrenching and warming at times. I’m excited to read what happens next for Morgan (and her brother Eli).
Apr 06, 2021 rated it it was ok
Great story idea. Poor execution. The dialogue seemed very weird. There was a lack of consistency in the way the characters communicated. It just didn't work for me and I couldn't wait for it to be over. ...more
Neha Thakkar
Nov 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful world building, incorporation of Indigenous beliefs, can’t wait for the next one!
Oct 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
First, thank you Puffin Canada and Hear Our Voices Book Tours for providing me with an ARC in exchange for a review! This is an own voices review.

Finally, there was a floating shelf for her books. Fantasy books mostly. Old ones, because Morgan liked how books used to be written. She liked the worlds that authors imagined and how she could imagine herself in them.

This truly is a theme in The Barren Grounds; there is an utter joy in this young Cree girl reconnecting with her own heritage through
Jacob Rundle
Oct 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
THE BARREN GROUNDS is a story that brings me back to when I was a child when I had dreams of venturing into a fantastical land. Narina was a place of myth and intrigue, and a place I wanted to see. The magic of being pulled into a world that allows you to become a “better” you always intrigued me. Well, in THE BARREN LANDS, Morgan and Eli are two children that are pulled into a place called Askí. And, let me tell you, an amazing place indeed! David A. Robertson has a way of writing prose that re ...more
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Goodreads Librari...: Book Attributed to Wrong Author 3 15 Jan 09, 2020 09:42PM  

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David A. Robertson (he/him/his) is an award-winning writer and recent recipient of the Writer's Union of Canada's Freedom to Read Award. His books include When We Were Alone (winner Governor General’s Literary Award), Will I See? (winner Manuela Dias Book Design and Illustration Award), Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story (listed In The Margins), and the the YA trilogy The Reckoner (winner Michae ...more

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