Review of Borders

by Thomas King; illus. by Natasha Donovan
Intermediate, Middle School, High School    Little, Brown    192 pp.    g
9/21    978-0-316-59306-9    $24.99
e-book ed.  978-0-316-59303-8    $9.99

Originally a short story in King’s adult collection One Good Story, That One, this comics version retains its complexity, dry humor, and sharp political edge. A boy (the narrator) from a Blackfoot reservation in Alberta drives with his mother to visit his sister, who has moved to Salt Lake City. At the tiny border crossing in Sweetgrass, Montana, a border guard asks the mother to state her citizenship. “Blackfoot,” she says. She’s denied entry to the United States (“It would have been easier if my mother had just said ‘Canadian’ and been done with it, but I could see she wasn’t going to do that”) and sent back to Canada — to the tiny border crossing in Coutts, a hundred yards away. “Your citizenship?” the Canadian border guard asks. “Blackfoot,” the boy’s mother replies, and is denied re-entry to Canada. Stuck between borders, mother and son spend several nights sleeping in the car, near the duty-free shop, until they are allowed to cross into the U.S. as a result of media attention. The ­thematic and literary richness of this story is exhilarating, unsettling the insistent binary of American/Canadian nationalities for the lived reality of Indigenous nationhood. But the story is textured, too: the unspoken reasons for the mother’s resistance to her daughter’s departure; the daughter’s own motives in going. The geography, accurately and evocatively rendered by Donovan, is yet another multi-layered presence, raising a multitude of insights and questions about borders, identity, and the passing on of culture. All this is delivered with a light touch by the narrator, whose perpetual quest for food is realistic and funny.

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Deirdre Baker
Deirdre F. Baker
Deirdre F. Baker, a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and the Toronto Star, teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto. The author of Becca at Sea (Groundwood), she is currently at work on a sequel—written in the past tense.

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