“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.
“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