Award-winning academic writer Tracey Lindberg’s debut novel Birdie caught my eye with it’s gorgeous cover image of an Aboriginal woman, which I would later learn is a reproduction of George Littlechild’s work Modern Girl, Traditional Mind Set. And “gorgeous Aboriginal woman” is an image that the CBC Canada Reads 2016 Nominee returns to again and again, cutting through the colonial ideals of beauty to the heart and spirit of the novel’s women in order to outline the gorgeousness in their various kinds of strength and their care for one another.
The novel’s protagonist, Bernice (or Birdie as she prefers to be called when she feels she’s earned it), grows up in the fictional Little Loon First Nation reserve in Alberta before moving to Edmonton in her twenties, and finally following her dreamy crush on Jesse from The Beachcombers and ending up in Gibsons, B.C. In her apartment over the bakery where she works, Bernice’s body falls into a deep sleep while her mind soars in exploration of her past. With her boss Lola, her Aunt Val, and her cousin Skinny Freda keeping watch, Bernice embarks on an internal quest to find wellness.
The biggest strength of the novel is the full-colour depictions of its characters as Bernice sees them. Each is a fully realized colour portrait of a person, complete with imperfections, often devastating ones, that Bernice forgives without knowing there was any forgiving necessary. There are countless ways the people in her life have failed her, but Bernice never once condemns or shames them for being exactly the kinds of people they are. She chooses instead to accept them, or protect them, or simply to love them.
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