Publishing Date: March 1, 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 336 pages
The Premise from the Publisher: "Set during the Second World War and the 1950s, Black Apple is an unforgettable, vividly rendered novel about two very different women whose worlds collide: an irrepressible young Blackfoot girl whose spirit cannot be destroyed, and an aging yet powerful nun who increasingly doubts the value of her life. It captures brilliantly the strange mix of cruelty and compassion in the residential schools, where young children are forbidden to speak their own languages and given Christian names. As Rose Marie matures, she finds increasingly that she knows only the life of the nuns, with its piety, hard work and self-denial. Why is it, then, that she is haunted by secret visions—of past crimes in the school that terrify her, of her dead mother, of the Indigenous life on the plains that has long vanished? Even the kind-hearted Sister Cilla is unable to calm her fears. And then, there is a miracle, or so Mother Grace says. Now Rose is thrust back into the outside world with only her wits to save her" (SSC).
My overall thoughts and review: When I was first emailed about this book, I was definitely curious about it because at the time, I was on the executive of an academic conference at my university. One of the panels was focusing on Indigenous Studies, and I thought this book would fit perfectly with it. We were able to get the event sponsored with a few arcs of Black Apple and I even had the opportunity to meet Joan in person. I was over the moon because Joan is an incredibly sweet person and she is writing about something that is so important. I've been finding that historical fiction that focuses on Indigenous Studies and the residential schools in Canada, often focus on a male protagonist and it was such a nice change that Joan wrote a book with such a strong-willed female protagonist: Sinopaki (Rose Marie). Joan also does something really unique and that is fuse two narratives into one. You get Sinopaki's perspective, but you also get Mother Grace's perspective. The story is told in three sections: Part 1, is when Sinopaki is taken from her family and has to adjust to the life at the residential school. This section had me on the verge of tears at times because Joan describes the cruelty that often happened at residential schools. My heart broke when the girls were forced to have new names and forget their previous life. Part 2 takes the reader into the "middle years" for Rose Marie: "womanhood" and the reader sees how Rose Marie is progressing at the school and how her relationship with Mother Grace forms. Part 3 is the final part, and it follows Rose Marie on a different journey. Essentially, the book tackles the very important theme of "coming of age" and what happens when your journey is essentially chosen for you. She was forced into the residential school, she was forced into the Church-life, and it seems mostly throughout the narrative that Rose Marie complied with what was asked of her, even if she did not want to. I loved seeing how she progressed as a character and became the independent and strong-willed character that she is. This is a beautifully written book that definitely tackles the cruel reality of the harshness that existed in residential schools to girls like Sinopaki. It is often not spoken about because it brings up the dark past, but I think this is a wonderful read that needs more exposure especially in the education system. The text looks at a female protagonist which most history texts don't. Joan offers a realistic depiction of what happened then, and I think this text would be extremely important and informing to not only adult readers like myself, but also to young adult readers. Joan also put a lot of research into the text and travelled to Alberta and British Columbia and I think that Joan not only offers the reader a powerful story, but her book does justice for individuals like Sinopaki.
My rating of the book: ✮✮✮✮ (4/5 stars)