Book review: Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

I can’t read this book title without my brain chanting out lines to the “Ten Little Indians” in the book of the same title later renamed And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. The poem was one of many based on those used in travelling minstrel shows. Even if the words vary, the message is disgustingly clear: non-white children never learn and inevitably come to a bad end.

It certainly seems that the main characters in Michelle Good’s Five Little Indians will meet with a bad end, considering how they start out. If, like me, you grew up not knowing about the residential school system in Canada, and then learned about it and thought it was a horrible national shame, and then struggled to fathom how horrible it was, then this book is a good place to start your education.

Can I just say, it’s hard to understand trauma.

Childhood trauma, especially, impacts a developing brain and body. It’s incredibly hard to unlearn automatic physical, mental and emotional responses to stress that are learned as coping mechanisms from trauma. These responses can impact the rest of your life.

Examples of trauma mentioned in this book are beatings, sexual abuse by authority figures, abandonment, neglect, alienation from family members, medical negligence, imprisonment, and spiritual abuse in connection with religion. One of these is enough.

The children who were taken from their parents, put in a residential school for ten or so years, and then released with no skills to survive in the outside world, would more than likely qualify for a high score on the Adverse Childhood Experiences test for childhood trauma.

This book is an important historical record, even as fiction inspired by real accounts. The author fleshes out the experiences of five characters in a real and concrete narration that brings them to life. As a reader, I empathize with them. I can make connections between a character’s outcome and the people I see in real life.

I recommend this book, even to young adults, as a way in to a new perspective. It’s also a well-written story, with plot twists and well-defined characters.

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