Photo from Niigaan Sinclair’s Twitter page
I faithfully read Niigaan Sinclair’s columns in the Winnipeg Free Press and think it is important the paper has an indigenous columnist who can help facilitate the journey toward reconciliation in our province. Most of the time I find Mr Sinclair’s columns troubling and difficult to read. They can make me sad, force me to ask hard questions and inspire frustration.
As I scroll through the comments readers post about Mr Sinclair’s columns I am often shocked and startled by their tone of venom, exasperation and brusqueness. Those feelings are directed both towards Mr Sinclair in particular and indigenous people in general. It only points out why it is so necessary to have Mr Sinclair’s columns in the paper.
Today’s column, however, is the kind I wish could be written more often. It is full of good news. Mr Sinclair writes about non-indigenous and indigenous people working together to help provide shelter for homeless folks during the pandemic, about indigenous filmmakers being celebrated and the positive impact a Metis educator has had on the lives of thousands of students. I wish Mr Sinclair could write those kinds of columns more often but I understand why he can’t.
Felix has a pet gerbil named Horatio and he sorely misses his beloved Grandma who has died. He has two bright and interesting best friends and they work on the newspaper staff at his French immersion school in Vancouver together. Both of Felix’s parents are artists. He lives with his Mom and sees his Dad a couple of times a year. He’s a whiz at answering questions on a television quiz program he loves to watch. He has amazing powers of observation, has developed ingenous categories for different kinds of lies and……………..he’s homeless. Felix and his mom live in a van they have “borrowed” from his Mom’s old boyfriend.
I just finished reading the novel No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen. She introduces the issue of homelessness and mental health to her middle-grade readers with an endearing main character. It’s simply impossible not to like Felix who is kind, resourceful, intelligent and perceptive. Felix’s mother Astrid struggles with serious mental health issues and while I felt sympathy for her, I just kept getting angrier at her as I read the book. Astrid LOVES her son but she constantly makes choices that place him in jeopardy. She refuses to get help and manages to alienate most people who offer assistance.
There is a line in the book that made me really think and ask lots of questions. Felix has just had lunch with his Dad and comes to the realization that while both his mother and father are “really great people they are not great parents.” How many children have that experience?
Felix keeps track of the items his Mom has stolen in the hopes that someday he will have enough money to pay back the stores she has robbed.
I enjoyed No Fixed Address but did wonder if some of the lifestyle choices it describes including theft and sex for money might not make the book better suited for an audience that is just a little older. I had read Susin Nielsen’s book Word Nerd previously. It was published in 2004. As I turned the pages of No Fixed Address the similarities between the two books were uncanny. Both have been very popular, so Susin Nielsen obviously knows a winning formula when she finds one.
My book club read No Fixed Address and so I can assure you that not just kids but adults find the book a good read and a good discussion starter.
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