Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac

“No one should feel guilty about the past. Unless they’re not doing anything about the present. That’s what my grandparents say. Think about what we are doing now and how it will affect the world seven generations from today, and not just in the next election.” ― Joseph Bruchac, Rez Dogs

Joseph Bruchac has been one of my favorite authors ever since I read Code Talker: A Novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two when I was a teenager. When I learned that his novel in verse, Rez Dogs, was an Iowa Children’s Choice Award nominee for 2023-2024, I knew I needed to check that one out.

Rez Dogs is a middle grade novel in verse that tells the story of a twelve year old girl who learns about her Penacook heritage from her grandparents when they are sheltering in place during the coronavirus pandemic.

Malian’s weekend trip to visit her grandparents on a Wabanaki reservation is extended when the new virus that’s all over the news shuts down any travel. Malian’s parents are back in Boston, so they decide that she will stay with her grandparents until they can travel again. Malian is worried, but she knows what she needs to do: she will protect her grandparents just like they protect her. She spends these weeks listening and learning from her grandparents’ stories. Malian misses her parents, but knows she can video chat with them whenever they manage to get signal.

When she needs company, one of the dogs living on the rez shows up in her grandparents’ yard. They have stories to tell about him, given their instant knowledge that he will protect the family as well. Malian names him Malsum. The two become inseparable with Malsum guarding the house, yet being incredibly gentle and loving with the family. The foursome spend this sheltering time learning from each other and making sure their knowledge and history are passed down to people who can make a difference.

This book was more insightful than I thought it would be. There are so many stories shared throughout that I wish I would have written down all of them, so I could look them up later (I did start doing that about halfway through). Malian and her grandparents are keepers of history, just like the author. He highlights how Indigenous communities cared for each other in the past and today in this insightful novel set against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This title is also available as a Playaway audiobook, Libby eBook, and Libby eAudiobook.

“We need to be kind to each other and to all living things, make the circle strong for those who come after us. Instead of just standing up alone like those first stone people, we need to bend our knees and touch the earth.” ― Joseph Bruchac, Rez Dogs

The Plague Year

Lawrence Wright’s book about the coronavirus disease, The Plague Year: America in the Time of Covid, serves as a summary of recent events (already receding into hazy memory) and also a cogent explanation of how the virus works and why it erupted the way it did.

Wright had written a novel about a plague, The End of October, so was already was familiar with the subject of pandemics. In fact, the timing of his novel’s publishing date was spring 2020 – just as lockdowns were in full gear.

One of the most fascinating sections is about Bellevue Hospital – Ground Zero during the spring of 2020. This illustrates the toll the deaths of Covid patients took on medical professionals and how their personal lives were affected.

Other chapters are about Broadway, and the actors and writers whose lives were upended, and about the origins of Covid – detailing the various theories about where the virus came from in the first place. Wright is a true journalist; interviewing experts and allowing readers to decide for themselves whether the pandemic originated in a lab leak or a wet market or something else.

Perhaps the most thrilling chapter is “Spike,” the story of the development of a vaccine. The way scientists raced to develop a vaccine is truly thrilling. Barney Graham was a scientist at the NIH, and the deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center. He is credited as the “chief architect of the first Covid vaccines to be authorized for emergency use.” To appreciate the scale of what these scientists accomplished, Wright summarizes the history of immunology, and how scientists’ experience with SARS accelerated the process of developing Covid vaccines. It’s hard to believe that on March 16th, 2020 the first person was inoculated.

Wright is such a good storyteller, that, even though we know the outcome, there is still an element of surprise in his telling.