One of my favourite books of all time is In Search of April Raintree by Beatrice Mosionier. The book was first published in 1983 and is now considered a Canadian classic. In Search of April Raintree follows the lives of two Métis sisters from their childhood spent in foster care to the earlier years of their twenties. One sister April has a more white passing appearance and has decided to reject her Métis heritage, while the other sister Cheryl has a more Indigenous appearance and has decided to embrace her Métis heritage. The book deals with a variety of heavy topics from suicide, to internalized racism, and sexual assault. But, at the same time the book isn’t entirely sad and there’s definitely moments of happiness and hope throughout the story. The story ends on a hopeful note when April decides to embrace her heritage, instead of rejecting it.
The Métis author Mosionier who was raised in foster care decided to write this book after her two sisters died from suicide. In an interview with CBC Mosionier mentioned that she didn’t really think In Search of April Raintree would be published. According to her, it was just a book about two Métis sisters and their lives. She additionally mentioned that she thought it wouldn’t have much of an audience either apart from other Métis women. That’s why it was such a surprise to her when it became a big deal in the literary world.
In my opinion, In Search of April Raintree truly deserves all the attention and critical acclaim it has received over the years. I can’t even name how many times I’ve read it. All I know is I’ve read it countless and countless times. In addition to owning a hard copy of the book, I even own a soft copy of it on my Kindle app. I felt that In Search of April Raintree encapsulated many of the experiences of being a ward of the child welfare system. The loneliness of being separated from your family at a young age and then being raised by a series of strangers in various foster homes. Judgemental social workers who are oblivious to the reality of what some foster homes are really like, foster parents who act like saints in public while being cruel in private, and the sense of powerlessness and voicelessness it feels to be a foster child. But, at the same time not every worker and foster parent involved in the child welfare system is a terrible person. In Search of April Raintree really does a good job at giving a voice to the experience of being a foster child.
Plus, if I’m getting really personal I must admit I found it a bit of a comfort that the narrator April deals with feelings of embarrassment in regards to her heritage. Due to experiencing lots of racism as a Métis person from a young age, she grows to become ashamed of her heritage and as a child decides she will simply tell people she’s white. In the novel she thinks of even changing the spelling of her last name “Raintree” to a less Indigenous sounding name like “Raintry.” That really resonated with me because often I’ve thought of changing my last name to something less distinct and Indigenous-sounding. Perhaps on the surface society is much more accepting, but I feel there’s still widespread racism in society. And if I’m being honest, there were times in my life when I felt that my last name and my Indigenous heritage was a burden, rather than something to be proud of. But, I don’t voice much of those thoughts out loud because it’s such a taboo thing to say. That’s why it was kind of a comfort to read how April deals with those similar feelings of embarrassment about her heritage.
Of course there was never anything wrong with me just because of my heritage. Rather, there was something wrong with society for making it possible for me to feel ashamed and embarrassed of my heritage. Similarly to April Raintree. There was never anything wrong with her just because she was Métis. But, rather there was something wrong and sick with society for treating her terribly just because of her race. Honestly, being racist and disliking other people for their race is the dumbest thing ever. Because, there’s plenty of other actual and valid reasons to despise someone so race shouldn’t even be a factor. I mean, there’s people out there who are doing truly heinous things like trafficking humans and abusing animals, but people continue to hate others just because of their race?
Anyways, in conclusion In Search of April Raintree is one of the best books ever written. I think the story is really well-written and weaved together. Everytime I read the book I am struck by a detail I hadn’t noticed before and the whole book flows very smoothly. And each time I read this book I almost always find myself crying by the end of the book. In Search of April Raintree is such an excellent book and while it does deal with very sad and uncomfortable topics I would strongly recommend reading it. Basically, I 10/10 recommend this book!
A couple other books I would suggest reading that I think have similar themes to In Search of April Raintree would be:
- Halfbreed by Maria Campbell
- Ohpikiihaakan-ohpihmeh (Raised somewhere else): A 60s Scoop Adoptee’s Story of Coming Home by Colleen Cardinal
- Stolen Life: Journey of a Cree Woman by Rudy Wiebe and Yvonne Johnson