Friday, December 11, 2020

Review: The Barren Grounds: The Misewa Saga

I won't lie: I listened to The Barren Grounds: The Misewa Saga by David Robertson because of the cover art. I was totally getting a Guardians of the Galaxy vibe from it. Just a couple of minutes into the book I realized there may be some truth to the advice about not judging a book by its cover.

Instead of a fun space drama, I found myself in an intense preteen drama. Morgan, the main character, is a young indigenous girl who's been in foster care for years. When we join her, we find she's got a relatively new foster brother Eli, who's also indigenous, and a strained relationship with her white foster parents. From home to school and everywhere in between Morgan feels like she doesn't fit in.

The Barren Grounds follows the clever journey Morgan takes to meet this challenge. Kudos to the text for leaning into, rather than avoiding, touchy subjects like foster care, child separation and cross-cultural relationships. I'm not sure how kids will respond to Robertson's approach, but as an Uncle and Foster Dad I'm glad I read the book and will be able to recommend it to the children in my life. While entertaining, the book clearly offers an opportunity to approach and discuss complex and seemingly out-of-bounds issues.

I always get nervous when I see foster parents portrayed in books, TV and movies. Sometimes, they get it right (I'm looking at you, This is Us), more often not. Robertson, to his credit, has portrayed Morgan's foster parents in a fair light. Sure, they're trying too hard and don't always know the right thing to say (been there, done that). Frequently, they fall back on their training, which is good but clumsy. Most importantly, they treat Morgan and Eli with unconditional love. They know that a child lashing out and slamming doors is normal and all part of growing up. In that respect, they made me proud.

Why Morgan has been bouncing around the foster care system for years raises another set of important questions. The fact that she hasn't been placed in a permanent home may be convenient for the story line, but is troubling to read. The safety net designed to help children like Morgan has failed. Is this an accurate criticism or an exaggeration for the plot? I fear it's probably a healthy dollop of both.

Bottom line: The Barren Grounds was an intriguing read and a solid gateway to important topics that all kids should be exposed to.

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