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Five Little Indians

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Taken from their families when they are very small and sent to a remote, church-run residential school, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie are barely out of childhood when they are finally released after years of detention.

Alone and without any skills, support or families, the teens find their way to the seedy and foreign world of Downtown Eastside Vancouver, where they cling together, striving to find a place of safety and belonging in a world that doesn’t want them. The paths of the five friends cross and crisscross over the decades as they struggle to overcome, or at least forget, the trauma they endured during their years at the Mission.

Fuelled by rage and furious with God, Clara finds her way into the dangerous, highly charged world of the American Indian Movement. Maisie internalizes her pain and continually places herself in dangerous situations. Famous for his daring escapes from the school, Kenny can’t stop running and moves restlessly from job to job—through fishing grounds, orchards and logging camps—trying to outrun his memories and his addiction. Lucy finds peace in motherhood and nurtures a secret compulsive disorder as she waits for Kenny to return to the life they once hoped to share together. After almost beating one of his tormentors to death, Howie serves time in prison, then tries once again to re-enter society and begin life anew.

With compassion and insight, Five Little Indians chronicles the desperate quest of these residential school survivors to come to terms with their past and, ultimately, find a way forward.

304 pages, ebook

First published April 14, 2020

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About the author

Michelle Good

5 books426 followers
Michelle Good is a writer of Cree ancestry and a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. She obtained her law degree after three decades of working with indigenous communities and organizations. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing at UBC, while still practising law, and won the HarperCollins/UBC Prize in 2018. Her poems, short stories and essays have been published in magazines and anthologies across Canada. Michelle Good lives and writes in south central British Columbia.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,262 reviews
Profile Image for Carolyn Walsh .
1,478 reviews605 followers
April 7, 2022
I believe this is an important book that centres on the horrible systematic abuse native children endured in residential schools. By focusing on the experiences of five children forcibly taken from their families,(which are based on factual accounts), the heart-wrenching experiences should carry a greater emotional impact on Canadians than dry, factual news reports.
The survivors told their stories to investigative panels many years later, and much guilt rests on government policies and religious institutions. The generation of children who survived their years of suffering in these residential schools was emotionally broken from their time held in captivity there, when unable to have contact with their families or community. Their distraught parents were forbidden to visit so they were denied family support and comfort.
Sent out into the outside world with inadequate education and lacking any counselling, financial support, or job placement, many became victims of sex traffickers or fell into drug and alcohol abuse. The aim of these schools was to remove the native culture and language from the children, which occurred under punishing conditions, poor nutrition and inadequate health care. This is a harrowing tale of a dark time in Canadian history. Shameful!
Profile Image for Dani.
51 reviews470 followers
July 31, 2020
Michelle Good is a Cree author from Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Her debut novel Five Little Indians follows five residential school survivors in Vancouver as they each grapple with the trauma they were forced to endure in their own ways.

I had a difficult time reading this at first because it was quite triggering. There is some intense substance abuse and sexually traumatic situations in the beginning of the book and for myself this was very difficult to read.

I think anyone with loved ones who were residential school survivors that have passed on would agree that reading novels like this and not being able to hug those loved ones can be very difficult. This is something I also struggled with.

I think these triggers are important to mention and I also think it’s equally important to discuss the brilliant enduring light that is this novel.
Although difficult at first, as Five Little Indians progressed I dreaded it ending because I’d grown to care for each of the characters.

I felt this novel made space for me as an Indigenous woman and leaving seemed daunting. It’s been a little while since I cried actual tears while reading a book but this did it for me.

Many important issues are touched on: how one cannot truly understand the horrors of residential schools unless you’ve attended, the insanity of being released from institutions and being expected to integrate into society healthily without any supports, the ongoing repercussions of colonialism, the power and importance of decolonized love & relationships & ceremony as building blocks for Native Healing.

I want everyone to read this book. I want everyone to bask in its light.
July 31, 2021
4.5 stars!

I wanted to read this book after learning about the recent Canadian news surrounding the residential schools. I knew nothing about this part of our history and am shocked and devastated by what has happened in our country. This book gives an eye opening glimpse into what some residential school survivors have had to endure after living through the abuse and neglect suffered at these schools.

A powerful and important story that gives a voice to five residential school survivors. The author created some unforgettable characters who tell the stories of what her own mother experienced while living at a residential school. While there are many gut wrenching situations that these characters face, the author tells their stories in a lighter tone, avoiding any graphic detail of abuse. The story ended up having a more hopeful and heart warming feel than I had expected which I enjoyed. Overall, a highly impactful and heart wrenching book.

Thank you to my lovely local library for the loan of this book!
Profile Image for Beata.
736 reviews1,111 followers
December 16, 2021
An important and much needed voice with regard to the fate of children taken away from their parents to residential schools in Canada. I have read another book, non-fiction on the subject and was devastated. This novel is eye-opening and tells stories of former students, some of whom were lucky and some of whom were not fortunate in their adult life. The story of Maisie moved me to the core ...
I admire nations that are willing to admit to mistakes and ask for forgiveness ...
OverDrive, thank you!
June 28, 2021
Why I wanted to read this book

I had Five Little Indians on my list to read after the Black Lives Matter protests. I decided to look at racism a little closer to home and support Indigenous writers in Canada as well. I started this one but due to a lack of awareness I didn’t have much knowledge on residential schools to understand the importance or where this story was going so I decided to put it aside. After the news of finding the remains of 215 children in a mass grave at a former residential school in Kamloops BC, I wanted to understand more about Canada’s history with the schools. I knew little about the schools, The Indian Act, and the extend of the mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples. So I searched for information on it and read 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality, where I found some of the information I have learned about residential schools. 751 unmarked graves, not mass graves, were also found in a cemetery run by the Roman Catholic church at a former Saskatchewan residential school. It is unknown how many of the remains are children or adults who may have attended the church and lived in local surrounding towns.

About the Book

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good won 2020 Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and long listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in Canada.

What the Book is about

The story follows five former Mission, BC residential school students, Lucy, Kenny, Maisie, Clara, and Howie. It explores the damage done as they struggle to overcome, forget and live with the trauma they endured in school. We see what life might have been like for students after leaving the school and into their adult life from each character’s POVs.

My thoughts on Five Little Indians

Michelle Good creates an important story by giving voices to residential survivors through her memorable characters trying to survive in a world after their Indigenous heritage is ripped from them. She sets them on a path with experiences that highlight some dark reality for residential survivors. We see how the legacy of the residential schools impacts Indigenous peoples today by showing us the impact intergenerational trauma has on families while answering that common question through the characters’ actions “why can’t they just get over it.”

Michelle Good creates her characters with compassion and a non-judgmental tone, making this a strong, readable story. The five characters are very likable, which gives a realistic feel; however, I found them too likable for a story, and the characters themselves lack some depth. They make some bad choices but primarily good choices, but their choices are affected by residential school traumas. It lacks turns to the story, and it was easy to see the direction the characters are going, which took away the tension needed to move the story forward for me. It is clear the horrors the characters suffered during their years in the school, but it is not dwelled into. The story does start darker than I expected and turns lighter than I expected, throwing off the story’s pace for me.

The story’s strength is how the treatment, abuse, loss of their language and isolation from their culture, community and family are explored through the characters’ actions.

The dialogue is not the strongest part of the story and sometimes felt a bit cringy, but that didn’t impact the importance of the story and just something maybe to keep in mind going into if that kind of thing might bother you.

The story’s heart is the support the characters and community have for each other, which gives the story a heartwarming feeling. Michelle Good shines a good light on that support but feels a little too good to be true for a story at times. This does add a hopeful, heartwarming and a lighter feel to the story if you are used to more darker stories. I recommend for the importance of the story and to bring awareness to the trauma experienced by Indigenous peoples.

For more of my thoughts on the characters and more about residential schools can be found on my blog Traveling Sisters Book Reviews
Profile Image for Jen.
133 reviews207 followers
September 16, 2021
Michelle Good’s Five Little Indians follows the eponymous Indigenous characters as they navigate life post the atrocity that was being sent to a residential school in Western Canada. As we follow their stories, there are flashbacks to life in school as well as more vague allusions to events that happened. Some want to run as (figuratively) far away as possible and others eventually find themselves reconnecting with their heritage.

Five star subject matter, but with some failings in execution. The writing felt a bit simplistic to me and often the dialogue fell flat or felt forced. There was also a bit of confusion surrounding nonlinear timelines and time jumps that could have been handled a bit better. I couldn’t help but think of Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys as I was reading, and this suffered by comparison. Then again, even being mentioned in the same breath with Colson Whitehead is a pretty big deal, at least in this reviewer’s opinion. This is a great introduction to residential schools for those who are unfamiliar with the horrifying subject matter, and in general a good read for even those who are already aware. I can only hope this book inspires people to look deeper into residential schools and perhaps into Indigenous culture as a whole.
Profile Image for Krista.
1,368 reviews544 followers
October 2, 2021
Lucy leaned back in her chair, hands folded in her lap. “They call us survivors.”
“I don’t think I survived. Do you?”

Five Little Indians tells a tale of the unbelievable challenges that haunt survivors of Canada’s Residential School System; an indefensible chapter in our history that saw Indigenous children torn from their families and sent to live in often abusive boarding schools whose aim was to “kill the Indian in the child”. As a country, we are trying to face this history, trying to reach for reconciliation with our First Nations people, and books like this one do a great service to bring this history to breathing life (I read this novel on the occasion of Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation). Although author Michelle Good’s subject matter is undeniably important and my heart is open to hearing her take on the intergenerational trauma resultant from these cruel actions, I found the writing to be lacking in artistry. There were moments that moved me, but for the most part, I was too distracted by clunky writing to lose myself to the narrative. Should still be widely read.

It was an unspoken agreement between them: the past was the past. It’s hard to run from the past, but once stuffed away, they knew it couldn’t be allowed to poison the present. They couldn’t be who they were now, with their lipstick, paycheques and rooms, if they were also those children, or the children who’d left the other children behind. Lucy looked at her hands and willed them to stop shaking. Kenny, the one we believed in. He was the one who never lost his taste for freedom. The stories of his escapes were legendary, his exploits spiralling into epic accounts in the whispers of the children in their dorms. She laid her head on the table and cried.

Perhaps my biggest problem with Five Little Indians is how flat and basically interchangeable the five main characters are: After escaping or aging out of the Mission, the main characters all find their way to Vancouver’s Lower East Side; a dangerous neighbourhood long known for its sex workers, drunks, and drug overdoses. But the five former residential school students of the title — although admittedly broken and disconnected from family and community — pretty much don’t succumb to the dangers that their neighbourhood is known for. The three women characters (Maisie, Clara, and Lucy) express their brokenness as the one who self harms, the angry one, and the one with low self-esteem and OCD (but pretty much interchangeable voices), and the men (Kenny and Howie) are the guy who drinks too much and can’t stay in one place too long and the guy who went to prison (but who should probably have been sent to a healing lodge instead; I think Howie’s was the most interesting story in the book and I could read a whole novel on him.) The timeline jumps around in confusing and unpredictable ways and the reader eventually learns how each of the children was stolen from their family (but I couldn’t now say with confidence whose story was whose; it's all kind of jumbly in my mind), and while there are scenes set in the school and memories that are shared later, abuse is inferred rather than shown. (I definitely don’t want to read an account of a child being sexually abused but I got the sense that Good cared for her characters too much to get explicit, like, “Don’t make me say it, I know you know what I mean happened there.” There’s even a scene where Lucy — an unwed, unemployed young woman with no family or community ties — has a baby, and at the height of the time when government agencies were taking newborns from their Indigenous mothers to place with white families, she escapes the hospital before meeting with a Social Worker: the Sixties Scoop isn’t even mentioned, as though Good could almost bring herself to write about it but couldn’t put Lucy through it.) I don’t want to belabour the negative, but while I could forgive a novel for writing that’s not quite to my tastes, the bigger problem was just how confusing this narrative is.

There are no English words to describe how one woman walked into that lodge and another walked out. All Clara knew was that it took her back. Back to the birch grove and the angel songs. Back to who she was before Sister Mary, before the school, before they tried to beat her into a little brown white girl. She felt a certainty, from then on, that all the ones who had come before walked with her. Life was no longer just survival. It was about being someone. An Indian someone, with all the truth that was born into her at the moment she was placed in her mother’s womb.

Again, there were moments that touched me; none of these children should have been taken from their families — even without the unthinkable abuse that so many of them suffered, this was a racist practise bent on cultural genocide — and it was moving to watch these characters try to rise above their broken childhoods, even when they stumbled.
Profile Image for Miceál.
393 reviews67 followers
September 24, 2021
Before you comment on this review: I've never had to make an edit like this before, but a few of you are struggling with separating my personal dislike of how this book is written with me not being sympathetic enough to its subject. If you read the review carefully you would see that I awarded a star simply because despite its technical shortcomings, this book still managed to pack an incredible emotional punch -- but seems a lot of you are apparently not bothering, I though I would confirm that here. I would also like to make it clear that your subtle insinuations that I am a racist for not rushing to rate this book five stars are absolutely ridiculous and will not change my mind; my dislike of bad characterisation and pacing, as well as terrible dialogue, is universal across the board. Finally, if any more of you think it's appropriate to use my own people's history as victims of cultural genocide as a cheap gotcha to try to shame me for my honest review, have a look at yourself. My people have always had a history of supporting the oppressed precisely because of this reason; we understand how it feels to be treated as literally subhuman. This extends to all those who find themselves oppressed for the crime of being native to their own country, as well as anyone else mistreated for the crime of being themselves. I have the greatest respect and sympathy for the victims of the kinds of atrocities featured in this book and my own history and lived experience give me the upmost empathy for those who have suffered, but my sympathy and respect for the real people this book is based upon does not have to extend to the fictional people portrayed in this badly written book in order to count. To use my own real history against me -- something I have lived, having grown up in a war zone and almost been killed several times myself; as well as having lost a friend to sectarian murder when we were both still children -- to defend a work of fiction is sickening. I happen to note that not one of you is Indigenous yourself; my people have historically had a great respect for Indigenous Americans, and I would greatly appreciate it if white non-Irish could stop trying to pit us against one another in the comments of my personal review, simply because I did not like this one book. What, exactly, are you trying to achieve here? Finally, for those insisting about story frameworks and language, please note that Ms Good wrote her book and I read it in a language technically foreign to us both, which we speak because of the exact same kind of cultural genocide. Pitting two oppressed peoples against one another for something as trite as differing literary tastes is not activism. Go and do something useful instead.

I'm going to say right off the bat here that I'm Irish, so obviously some of the cultural impact and understanding is going to be lost on me. That being said, this rating does not reflect the emotional impact of this book, which was actually the only part of it done well. The author does a very good job when it comes to illustrating the impact that this suffering has had on the characters' lives, and there are some truly heartwrenching scenes in this book. The fact that all of it is true -- that it's based on real experiences that actually happened, and all of these fates would have played out countless times -- only adds to the weight. In fact, considering the bulk of my complaints, the depth of the emotion in some of these scenes is even more impressive.

As I said, my low rating isn't because I found it emotionless or too much of it was outside my understanding. It's because I expected a lot more from this novel, but when I finally got around to reading it, it soon became abundantly apparent that the writing was simply not up to par. If it hadn't been for the fact that despite this, it still managed to illicit an emotional response in several areas, I wouldn't have been able to give it anything other than one star just for the writing alone. It's such a shame, because this is a very important topic and the potential was there to make something great, but the writing just did not support it.

Generally, the writing is very, very juvenile. There are some places where it solidifies a little and has a little more meat to it (Maisie's chapter, for example), but overall it's just really not good writing. It's very flat in places, it uses a wide variety of epitaphs and phrases that are just not appropriate for the voices of the adult characters, and at times it verges on childishly whimsical. The dialogue is, for the most part, atrocious. Stilted, flat, unrealistic... I could not believe that anybody actually spoke that way. It was the mental equivalent of watching several nervous high-school-aged actors stiffly reading their lines for the school play. It was so bad that it was sometimes uncomfortable.

The point of view also changes from third to first person with literally no pattern. Some of the characters, such as Maisie and Howie, suddenly begin to narrate in first person, when all of the others have been shown in third person. At one point, there is a paragraph break within a single character's chapter, and it swaps from third to first person. There is a second instance of this, but it makes more sense because the character is telling his story to another; the first instance I mentioned has no logical reasoning that I can see. It's very jarring, and because there doesn't seem to be a reason for it, it's a little frustrating. Of course, there are no rules saying that a writer can't do that, but if a writer is going to mess around with point of view or, for example, tense, it's at least consistent and follows its own in-universe rules. There's nothing like that here, and it feels like a story cobbled together from several first drafts.

The pacing is atrocious. I mean, it borders on confusing, and I'm sure many readers do find it confusing. I think the only reason I didn't get as confused was because by a certain point I had kind of given up on this book as something I could get my teeth into and instead was passively reading it to pass the time, like how I might have daytime TV on in the background. This way, I was able to not question as much, and while there were usually context clues to help me find my way eventually they were often buried deep within the new chapter and a more vigilant reader would have likely been page-flipping to try and find out what the hell was going on well before that point. At one point a character has a baby, but good luck using her to try and align yourself with how much time has passed -- the story frequently swaps back and forth in time periods of anywhere between a few weeks and several decades. Again, there's no internal logic for this, and very rarely is there context explaining how. At one point, we see The baby is a newborn, and then a toddler, and then vague undefined ages, and then in her twenties... I'm still not sure of where the prologue fits, nor how they found their friend's body and brought her back for burial. I was expecting that to be a major plot point in the book, maybe something to do with the revolutionary days, but nope. There's also a lot of things that happen that are very lucky or convenient, and clearly just there to simplify the plot. Again, I was left feeling like this was a first draft.

Finally, the characterisation is very weak. As I said earlier, somehow there's enough that some scenes really pack an emotional punch, and they're at the very least sympathetic characters. I can believe they're really hurting, and I can believe the terrible effects the abuse they suffered has had on them. The portrayal of trauma is blunt and honest, and is the only strength of this book. Outside of their trauma, though, the characters are flat. Even any progress they make is kind of flat. They parrot the same things over and over, they have the feeling of doing something, the outline of doing something, but they never actually do anything, and combined with the bad dialogue they're just very wooden. Sincerely, the dog is at the better end of characterisation in this book. With the writing being as juvenile as it is, I had to look up the book to see if it was YA -- and that's no offense to YA, I just wondered if it was a particularly weak example of the genre. Apparently this is a book for adults, I suppose because of the dark themes more than anything else. I don't think any adult who reads regularly would find themselves particularly challenged by this, and I do wonder if its high rating is an emotional response rather than a reflection of the book's quality.

Of course, if that's how people rate their books, good for them, but it isn't how I rate mine. This book was a frustrating read. I wanted more, but the thin writing, the bad dialogue, and the flat characters made me feel like it kept slipping from my grasp. The moments where it actually made me feel something eventually began to feel more like teasing -- I knew it wasn't going to get better, but it was never quite bad enough to quit.
Profile Image for Jodi.
358 reviews82 followers
July 5, 2022
This book was tremendously moving and upsetting. It was quite difficult to read at times. But reading it was necessary.

You know, I realize no one living today is responsible for creating residential schools. None of us made the decision to forcefully remove children from their parents. Not one of us helped to create government policies to assimilate indigenous peoples into Canadian society. No person alive today ordered all traces of First Nations' culture, language, spiritual beliefs, and more be erased from the children in their care. But that cannot change the fact that I have never felt so thoroughly ASHAMED to be a Canadian as I do now.

It's true... we no longer remove First Nations children from their homes and lock them away in cold, dangerous institutions. But we do - to this day - treat them as second class citizens. They're living in communities with sub-standard housing, without basic infrastructure that anyone would expect. Inadequate sewage systems, water that's undrinkable, food they pay exorbitant prices for. What social services they have are wildly under-funded. This may result in higher rates of unemployment, incarceration, substance and alcohol abuse, infant mortality, suicide, and more. This is what multiple generations of societal abuse can lead to! And to those who disagree I'd suggest they read this book - Five Little Indians - or one of the many others like it to get even a small sense of the long-term effects that colonization has had on First Nations peoples. What was done to them is shocking. Read some of the accounts - real or fictionalized. And while you're at it, read through the Calls to Action in the Truth & Reconciliation report and those in the MMIWG report.

HOW can men and women of the cloth have treated children this way - with rampant institutional, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse? Was that an example of the Christian behaviour they claimed to want to instill in these children? What was done to them was unconscionable, immoral, and without a doubt... un-Christian!
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,537 followers
September 28, 2021
UPDATE June 24, 2021: 750 more suspected unmarked graves found near another former Indian residential school (this one in Saskatchewan)*

A disturbing, revelatory look at survivors of Canada’s residential school system

Canada is still reeling from the recent discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children* who attended a residential school in Kamloops, B.C. That tragedy – which has prompted investigations into other such schools across the country – only hammers home the importance of Michelle Good’s prescient and powerful first novel.

It follows the lives of five “survivors” of the Catholic-run Mission school in B.C. I put quotation marks around that word because although these Indigenous children were alive they were irrevocably scarred by the emotional, physical and sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of priests and nuns. They were also cut off from their families and traditions, and so have been largely left without any personal and cultural history.

• Kenny’s frequent attempts at escaping the Mission have followed him out into the real world, where he flees any sort of normal life or stability.

• Lucy is a naive girl who’s dispatched from the school at 16 and forced to fend for herself without knowing anything about the outside world. She pursues an education as a nurse, and finds meaning in motherhood, even though she's developed some obsessive-compulsive behaviours.

• Maisie, who takes Lucy in when she comes to Vancouver, is tough and knowing on the surface but leads a self-destructive double life.

• Clara becomes active in the American Indian movement and has built a protective wall around her.

• And finally Howie, probably the most brutally victimized of the lot, has been paying for an impulsive act of vengeance that landed him in jail after leaving the Mission.

Good, who trained later in life as a lawyer and advocated on behalf of many residential-school survivors, focuses not on what happens in the school itself but on what the residents do afterwards. She’s especially skillful in depicting the emotional trauma affecting them. Some are haunted by kids who didn’t survive, feeling guilt because their friends are dead. Some feel worthless and unmoored, which is how they were made to feel during their stolen childhoods.

And while seeing each other brings solace (only other survivors can understand what they’ve been through), it can also plunge them back into a time they’d rather forget and move on from.

If the novel has a major flaw, it’s that the priests and nuns at the school are cardboard villains, pure evil. I know we're seeing them from the POV of the abused children, but I wish Good had given them a bit more complexity. And the timeline of the childhood scenes is sometimes unclear. . A stronger editor could have cut out some clichés.

The first two or three chapters were unrelenting in their bleakness, and for a while I considered abandoning the novel. (One or two of my Goodreads friends did just that.) I’m glad I stuck with the book, however. Good mixed up the tone of the book, introducing a few other key characters – including a vivacious, life-affirming dog named after one of the 20th century’s most important musicians. And she showed us the way to reconciliation and healing.

Five Little Indians is an important and necessary book, deserving of all the acclaim it’s received.
Profile Image for Karen.J..
214 reviews178 followers
May 18, 2022
Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

My heart breaks for Kenny, Lucy, Clare, Howie and Maisie. All five were taken away from their families as very young children and forced to live at a church run residential school. The beatings and suffering mentally and physically was beyond inhuman. Once they were old enough to leave the residential school or run away the pain never stopped. This incredible story line follows these amazing five people as they work through adulthood battling the consequences of the abuse of others.
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,224 reviews169 followers
August 5, 2022
“We were children, me and Lily, and neither of us survived, even though I’m still walking.”

Residential schools; hijacked children separated forcibly from their villages, siblings and parents; forced baptisms; violent discipline and brutal beatings, even unto death; inadequate nutrition and medical care; sexual abuse; and religious and cultural terrorism! Check! From their first implementation in Canada to their final demise in the late stages of the 20th century, the reality that religious-based aboriginal residential schools, most notably the Roman Catholic versions, were guilty of de facto cultural genocide has been admitted by the Canadian government. This crime against humanity has been acknowledged as demanding reparation and compensation for the victims. It’s the heady stuff of current headlines across North America and there’s plenty of meat for both novels and non-fiction journalistic exposés and histories.

FIVE LITTLE INDIANS follows the lives of five “survivors”, a euphemistic term which correctly relates the fact that they were alive when they left a BC residential school, but fails to convey even the smallest part of the physical and mental trials they were forced to endure to begin the process of recovering their stolen culture, traditions, language, and spirit. Kenny’s constant attempts to escape the school follow him into adult life where he knows of no other way to live than fleeing from wherever he happens to be. Lucy becomes a nurse and a mother but ultimately falls prey to obsessive-compulsive behaviours. Maisie, apparently tough and more resilient than her friends, is in reality, troubled and self-destructive. Clara pursues a dangerous track into the militarized American Indian movement. And, Howie, having suffered the most brutal treatment of the group, pays the penalty for an impulsive physical act of self-protection and vengeance.

FIVE LITTLE INDIANS is a story that Good has managed to make at once poignant, shocking, compelling, and gripping. Any reader with a heart and any compassion at all will finish the story with a lump in their throat and a deep-seated sense of personal embarrassment and anger that this is a part of Canadian history that will live with us forever. We did this, we tolerated this, we caused it to happen and we allowed it to continue for far too many years. It must also be noted that this story will not reach its final ending until reconciliation is achieved and fair compensation is paid to each and every victim. And that goes for those whose bodies are, even as we speak and read today, in the process of being discovered. My personal feeling is that the continuing existence of the Roman Catholic Church as a place of worship in Canada and the world is a profound mistake. It needs to be wound up and relegated to the history books.

Paul Weiss
Profile Image for NILTON TEIXEIRA.
828 reviews258 followers
October 20, 2020
This is a very well written book and, in my opinion, an excellent debut. It was long listed for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize. It didn’t make the cut for the short list.
At first I was afraid that it was going to tear me apart because some parts are heartbreaking.
There are so many kinds of abuse such as sexual, substance and mental.
I was engaged from the beginning and totally connected with all the characters. The storyline was very well developed without being overly dramatic or repetitive.
The main topic is about young aboriginals taken (kidnapped) from their families and forced to live in a residential school and then, after years of abuse, are simply “released” to freedom with no means or place to live.
It shows how the Canadian government failed to help its own citizens back in the 60’s.
Profile Image for Antoinette.
756 reviews41 followers
May 8, 2022
4.5 Stars

“To be Little again, living without fear and brutality- no one gets that back. All that’s left is a craving, insatiable empty place.”

Imagine being 6 years old and you are taken away from your family and sent to a mission school. This was the law for Indigenous children in Canada. Were these “schools” beneficial to these children? Did they enhance their lives in any way? Sadly- absolutely not.

Michelle Good brings forward the stories of 5 of these children( not real children, but for sure based on real stories). Their lives within these “schools” were ones of fear and brutality. They feel unloved and unwanted. They have no idea why they never hear from their families. At the age of 16, they are put on a bus and sent away, back to the city, with no potential for success. They are mentally scarred, haunted by their years spent at these so called schools.

It was heartbreaking to follow these 5 in the aftermath of their time at these schools. The author has portrayed a very realistic picture of life before and life after. The during was always there, but she infuses hope into the story as well. They have managed to survive to the schools, but can they survive the outside world and their memories.

I am appalled at this true history of my country. I was a child at the time setting of this book (1960’s). I was not being brutalized in school. I was learning, as all children should.

A very enlightening, discussion stimulating book. I highly recommend everyone read it.

Published: 2020
Profile Image for Taury.
504 reviews91 followers
August 18, 2022
Five Little Indians by Michelle Good is a story about 5 Indian children taken from their homes at a young age. Kenny, Howie, Maisie, Clara and Lucy tell a story of horrific abuse in a Christian residential school for Indians. Once they are released the challenges they face. This is a story of racism. How, once again, those that have a different culture, different culture are abused and treated in the white man’s world.
Profile Image for Wendy.
1,641 reviews557 followers
March 2, 2022
I can certainly see why this novel was nominated for Canada Reads!
Inspired by the author's experiences Michelle Good's "Five Little Indians" is told from the alternating points of view of five former residential school students as they struggle to survive in 1960's Vancouver.
An incredibly emotional story that is both tragic and moving!
Profile Image for Jiny S.
307 reviews24 followers
April 25, 2020
The book perfectly captures the plight of Canada’s indigenous population as a product of institutionalized abuse and systemic discrimination by the Canadian government during 60s when Aboriginal children are kidnapped from their families and communities and coerced into an inhumane educational system that is the infamous residential schools. Countless children suffered forced labour, abuse, and even death under the draconian and punitive indoctrination of the churches under the government’s direction. To “kill the Indian in the child” is the vicious objective of faceless institutions, which inevitably killed the child who is herself Indian when everything else is striped from her: her community, her culture, her family, and ultimately her identity.

The book chronicles some memorable characters from the point they start their lives right after they leave the residential school, and enter a strange world where everyone is hostile towards them. Their situation is exacerbated by the fact that they were left without any means of social or financial assistance during the transition to the real world. These young adults do not process the basic skills to survive and attain meaningful employment, and they were given nothing but a bus ticket.

In the beginning of the book, a young girl who is fresh out of residential school encounter a pimp and became his target. Although she is saved, there is no justice nor retribution for the perpetrator. Throughout the book, this kind injustice happens over and over again, in different place with different people who all believe the same thing about Indians. However her story is full of anger, pain, and sadness, it is by no means unique.

It’s always a strange feeling when a place you’ve had a connection to gets mentioned in a book. Most of the time it’s a pound feeling, but not this time.

Once I’ve been to Vancouver for work, I reached out to a friend who lived in the city. He was very nice to me and gave me a tour that included Stanley Park, Granville Islands, and other tourist sites that made me believe all the people who previously told how beautiful Vancouver is as a city. I remembered the mountain, the water, the nice restaurants and seafoods and thought about the incredible real estate prices (the highest in Canada).

As the night came to an end, my friend decided to show me the other side of the town: East Hastings. We drove along the street and I was flabbergasted. People were camping by the side of the street with makeshift tents made of plastic and rags. There are piles of junk and garbage and around a big long line of people. I saw someone injecting himself, right there on the street. As we drove to the end, there were two flashing police cars cordoning off the line of people. What surprised me the most was how close it was to the city, with its nice hotels and restaurants and parks.

There was a snippet of a conversation in the book between a little girl and a bus driver. The bus driver told her: “You should go to East Hastings, that’s where your kinds are.” That made me feel really bad. You can’t feel like that if you haven’t seen what East Hastings is like with your own eyes.

I’m glad for the ending of the book. Despite all the darkness, things got better slowly as the surviving characters seemed to get a foothold in the world. Some of them found each other, rediscovered their roots, fought to bring justice, and slowly started to heal the wounds of the past. The ending was not a shiny vindication, but a slow and quiet healing process that had to gently caress the wounds of all past sufferings.

As I finish this book, I am thankful for the opportunity to learn about this dark chapter in Canada’s history. I’m happy for all the progress that indigenous people have made despite their unspeakable past, and hope that it they and their children will have a better future as times change and attitudes change with it.
Profile Image for Bookworm.
950 reviews131 followers
March 21, 2021
This is a must read for anyone but more specifically for any Canadian. It is a raw and eye-opening account of five survivors’ experiences at a Canadian residential school The Mission. The author is of Cree ancestry and a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation. She provides insight into what Indigenous children and families endured by being forced to participate in a barbaric and brutal government law that resulted in families being ripped apart and children being physically, verbally, emotionally, sexually and systematically abused at residential schools. The impact of the trauma and ongoing vulnerabilities to sexual predators and substance abuse that survivors faced once they left the schools was heartbreaking to read about. It provides a perspective that certainly helped me better understand the history. I also appreciated the Indigenous cultural references and explanations that added beauty and depth to the story. I’m sure it won’t be an easy read for many people, and even triggering for others, but definitely an important look at shameful Canadian history.
Profile Image for Sam Dixon.
82 reviews15 followers
June 13, 2021
I really wanted to like this book, but… I didn’t. At all.😬
There is no arguing that this book is important. It sheds light on the multigenerational effects of residential schools, a horrifically tragic aspect of Canadian history. It touches on the traumatic loss of family, customs, language, and identity for the Indigenous people of Canada due to these “schools”. For this reason, this book and the message it relays is incredibly important. And I think it needs to be read.
However, it fell completely flat for me. And, it was mostly the writing that ruined it. The writing was disjointed and artless. It was choppy and chunky with no rhythm or flow to it, almost amateur-like. The poor writing made it impossible for me to connect with the characters as I found them unreachable and one dimensional. The writing lacked the depth and heart for me to be able to form an emotional connection with the characters and their voices. In turn, I wasn’t drawn to the book and had to force myself to actually pick it up.
Profile Image for Erin.
2,961 reviews485 followers
September 12, 2020
One of the longlist nominees the Scotiabank Giller Prize (a really awesome literary prize here in Canada), Michelle Good tells us the story of 5 fictional characters after their time in a remote Canadian residential school. Written with compassion and without judgment, this definitely is a book that no reader should bypass.

Favorite book of 2020 nominee

Goodreads review published 12/09/20
Profile Image for Lorina Stephens.
Author 17 books62 followers
April 20, 2021
It is important to begin this review with the fact I'm Caucasian, first generation Italian, third generation Irish, born in Canada, live a life which many would call privileged, but would do so without understanding of family background, struggle, trauma. I do understand being a victim. But I do not have an understanding of residential school trauma. Having said all that, I do very much find compassion for, and empathy and solidarity with, my First Nations people. I hear your struggle. I champion your cause. Let us leave no one in the darkness of despair, victimization, and oppression. Let us move into the light, into healing, into a positive state.

Given that preface then, allow me to comment on the literary merit, not the humanitarian merit, of Michelle Good's novel. It is an important novel, if for no other reason than the fact it is one more very strong, intimate and authoritative indictment of residential schools, of religious zeal, and human cruelty.

As a literary work, however, I found the prose simplistic and without the impact great writing can cement to a great story. I also found the characterization a bit Archie-comics, a bit wooden, and because of this I very much felt, from a purely writers' craft perspective, that Good could have done better if she had editors who cared as much about good writing as they did about the importance of her story.

Good chooses to tell the story of five different people who all came out of the same horrific residential school, how their lives intersected after they emerged, and how their lives either dissipated and shattered, or found cohesion and resolution. She does manage the different timelines and perspectives very well. There is no confusion, and so the story moves along quite well.

But is it a brilliantly told story? When you compare this story to Boyden's Wenjack or The Orenda, for which he was unjustly vilified in my view, there is no comparison. Boyden tears emotion out of your throat, leaves you breathless and hurting, transported into the pain and horror of the characters he lifts off the page. Good, on the other hand, tells stories ABOUT people. She doesn't create people who tell us their story. There is a profound difference.

Let it not be thought, however, that Good's novel isn't worthy of your time. It is. Read it. It's important.
Profile Image for Leslie.
1,127 reviews229 followers
October 31, 2021
I’m going to confess that I knew nothing about the residential schools in Canada until recently when they popped up in the news. To date, more than 1,000 unmarked children’s graves have been discovered at former Indigenous residential schools there. As an American, I’m aware and sickened by my own country’s dark history with so many things, including our own treatment of Indigenous people. I guess I was burying my head in the sand by not thinking about things outside of my own, “backyard,” so to speak.

So this was a rough read. But an important one. And one that has led me to read more on the subject. Because we can only try and not let history repeat itself by learning more. Even when it makes us uncomfortable. ESPECIALLY when it makes us uncomfortable.

The prose overall flowed nicely. There were times when points of view would suddenly shift from first person to third person that could be confusing. But ultimately I was too invested in the story to mind much. It was heartbreaking but not completely without hope. This was a strong debut and I hope this author will write more.

Also-thanks Grace for putting this on my radar! 💜
Profile Image for Susan Blades.
Author 2 books20 followers
July 18, 2021
I've deleted my review because I wrote it before the author and I were placed on the shortlist for a prize together. Now that we are on the list, I feel it's inappropriate to have reviewed her book.
Profile Image for Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac).
668 reviews586 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
September 24, 2020
As a settler Canadian, I am so glad this book exists and is being nominated for big prizes. Unfortunately, it didn’t work at all for me, due to the writing and especially the naïve, faux Dickensian characterization. I couldn’t finish it. But check out the other, glowing reviews: I’m in a distinct minority.
Profile Image for prozaczytana.
568 reviews185 followers
June 21, 2022
Mieliśmy sześć lat - ciepły kąt, opiekę i miłość bliskich i beztroskie dzieciństwo. Nagle ważni ludzie zdecydowali wyszarpać nas rodzicom i umieścić w szkole, w której zostaliśmy odarci z człowieczeństwa. Upokorzenia, wyzywanie, ograniczanie, wykorzystywanie w każdy możliwy sposób. Nie da się wyjść cało z takich przeżyć, bez uszczerbku na ciele oraz psychice. Radosne dzieci przeobraziły się w skrzywdzonych dorosłych, niepotrafiących normalnie żyć. Zawiniliśmy tylko tym, że byliśmy rdzennymi Amerykanami, nazywanymi Indianami, zamieszkującymi Kanadę. Zdeptano nas, zniszczono, wypluto i pozostawiono samym sobie...

- Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie, Maisie i mnóstwo innych dorosłych, którym zabrano dzieciństwo.


"Pięcioro małych Indian" to przerażająca i ciężka emocjonalnie opowieść o złamanych ludziach, próbujących poskładać się na nowo. Jest to niesamowicie trudne, a niekiedy niemożliwe do osiągnięcia. Serce mi pęka, gdy uświadamiam sobie, jak łatwo można zniszczyć człowieka…

Na pewno większość z Was czytała albo przynajmniej słyszała o "27 śmierciach Toby’ego Obeda" – tytuł Michelle Good to właśnie podobna historia, tylko fabularyzowana. Polecam, aby otworzyć oczy i może docenić, że jednak nie mamy tak najgorzej, chociaż dobrze też nie jest. Niemniej czasami człowiek potrzebuje kopa, aby ocknąć się i ujrzeć, iż tak naprawdę nie ma tak źle.

Dyskryminacja boli. Niesprawiedliwość boli. Samotność boli. Ludzka krzywda boli. Czytanie tej książki boli. Świadomość, że to działo się naprawdę – boli.
Profile Image for Penny (Literary Hoarders).
1,144 reviews133 followers
July 31, 2020
It took me only two days to read this. I spent my day entirely reading this today. I will miss my time with these "five little Indians". I was fully invested in their stories.

The Vatican and the Canadian government need to pony up large to perhaps come even close to rectify the pain, the suffering, and the torture and the lifelong trauma caused from these horrible Residential Schools. The ironclad collaboration between the Church, the Government and the RCMP made me cry when I thought of these (beginning at 6-year-old) kids and all they endured and the pain that they spend a lifetime trying to overcome caused by the filthy hands of these horrible, terrible people.

This is the first CanLit book I'm reading from the 2020 Crazy for CanLit titles that could make the Giller Prize's Longlist - to be announced in September. This is only the first I've read from the eligible list but it has left a mark and will haunt me for a very long time. I am very interested to see if the jurors feel the same.
Profile Image for Bree C..
102 reviews1 follower
March 4, 2021
For the briefest of moments I wondered “how could someone come up with such horrors to write about?” and then I of course remembered, this is far too many people’s reality.

I loved this book. I cried when it ended. It is so harrowingly beautiful. It is full of sorrow and strength, and I felt as though there was magic and wisdom woven among the words.

In an unexpected way, it also brought me healing: “You know what Mariah taught me about death? That the only thing our loved ones suffer is when we are suffering here without them.” p. 265

Every Canadian needs to read this book.
Profile Image for Martine.
168 reviews47 followers
January 28, 2022
Shortlisted for CBC Canada Reads 2022

"How many lives were broken down like garbage in the name of that cross?"

An essential read. Traumatic and emotional, difficult to read at times. It is very well written and has won many awards. This book will stay with me for a long time.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
892 reviews
November 18, 2021
"Wounding and powerful, Five Little Indians is epic story weaving. Haunting and profound, this book is another reminder that residential schools will always be the sorrow in Canada's bones."
- Richard Van Camp

Taken from their families as small children and confined at a remote, Church-run residential school, Kenny, Lucy, Maisie, Clara, and Howie are barely out of childhood when they are finally released, with no money or support, after years of detention.

Alone and without skills, support or family, the teens find their way to the seedy and foreign world of Downtown Eastside Vancouver, where they cling together, striving to find a place of safety and belonging in a world that doesn't want them. The paths of the five friends cross and crisscross over the decades as they struggle to overcome, or at least forget, the trauma they each endured during their years at the Mission.

With compassion and insight, FIVE LITTLE INDIANS chronicles the bonds of friendship between this group of survivors as they help each other to reinvent their lives and, ultimately, find a way forward.

After reading FIVE LITTLE INDIANS by Michelle Good, it is easy to see why this book won awards. I highly recommend this debut novel.
4.5 stars ⭐️️⭐️️⭐️️⭐️️💫
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