Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
Ten years ago Emery Matawapit broke Darryl Keejik’s heart, by chosing obedience to his parents over the love he shared with Darryl. Emery’s father Nathan is the church deacon and Darryl still holds a grudge. Emery comes home from Saint Michael’s Seminary six months before he’ll enter the priesthood to address the past, and ask for Darryl’s forgiveness for the way their friendship ended. Darryl is now part of the Traditionalists Society’s mission to preserve and teach the Anishinaabe ways. The deacon is scared they’ll yank the monthly donation to his church for their hydo bill. When the church asks for even more money to hold a Healing the Spirit workshop developed by the diocese to reconcile First Nations and Christian communities, all heck breaks lose. The workshop is supposed to help recovery for the generations traumatized by the Indian Residential Schools the Canadian Government imposed on the Indigenous people throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Old hurts against the church bubble to the surface causing political problems for the reserve and personal problems for our MCs.
This book is an emotional journey and anyone with a complicated relationship with Christianity whilst supporting LGBTQIA+ people might want to read it. Where I live we just had our first Pride event and it was interesting to see which churches came and were supportive. In many ways, Protestantism is geared to be more supportive of queer people, but that doesn’t always work in practice. The issue taken up here is Catholicism and how it related to the “two spirit” on the reserve. There are many times where the author tries to say Creator and God are the same, making prayer the same whether it is the Anishinaabe way or the Catholic way. While I actually agree personally, the official Catholic and Christian line is that you believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God or you are not saved and are going to hell. A lot of this book tries to justify this position of these different faiths being equal or compatible in a way that is not defensible; if that church was a Unitarian Universalist one, we might be able to have a different discussion, but not when the church is Catholic. While the Catholic (and Mormon) church may allow queer people as long as they never actually have sex, I have a difficult time understanding why anyone who believes the Lord made people the way they are would tell them that they can never experience physical love with the person they are in love with. I also can’t understand why a queer person would choose to be part of a church like that when there are churches that have a more nuanced understanding of scripture, that use proper academic translations rather than radical paraphrasing, and learn about the actual historical context of the bible, that would accept them as they are. For full disclosure, I was Christian and went as a missionary to evangelize at one point, but after studying early church history, latin, and medieval pilgrimage, as well as traveling in different countries, I became pagan. I say this because I don’t care if queer people choose to be Christian, I just don’t understand choosing a particular church that thinks queer people are abominations–that seems unhealthy. Also, I don’t have to understand, I just have to be supportive.
I like reading about some of the Anishinaabe traditions. The book doesn’t shy away from tough topics such as alcoholism, sexual abuse, and inherited trauma. I do wish Darryl was a little toned down at the beginning; he is so angry it’s off putting and comes across as immature, his constant profanity is coarse. Emery’s dad is controlling and scared his son will make a decision he doesn’t want without constant supervision. Even though he comes around in the end, it is difficult to like him. Many of the characters are difficult to like until the end and I feel this would have benefited from more time being spent with Father Arnold, Emory’s spiritual advisor, or Darryl’s spiritual advisor Basil. These two men make the most sense in the whole book–wanting what is best for everyone without forcing an agenda, giving advice but letting them make their own decisions. It was good to watch Emery listen to his heart and stand up for living his own life when the cost for him was so high. I have to say there are some awkward transitions between scenes. The sex scenes weren’t particularly erotic as the author uses some strange word choices like “tingles” and “hot shivers” repeatedly: “the ripeness in Darryl’s crotch teetered on bursting.” Part of me feels this would have been more successful faded to black, while the other part of me recognizes that would defeat the point, which is that sex between two men in love is natural and nothing to be ashamed of. Sex scenes are incredibly difficult to write and are subjective to judge as not everyone will like the same thing, so it might just be me.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about this book. I like reading about other cultures and points of view, so I’m glad I read it. There were things that didn’t work for me. In the end, it was good to see Darryl and Emory grow both together and in spirit. Keep in mind after ten years apart, this takes place within three weeks so developing the relationship longer would have added more emotional impact and made everyone’s reactions hold more weight at the end.
The cover art by Martine Jardin is how I pictured the characters. While I am not generally a fan of cover models floating in the sky, in this case, it is actually fitting.
Published July 6th 2018 by eXtasy Books Inc
Edition Language English