by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton; Liz Amini-Holmes
A Stranger at Home is the second instalment in Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s poignant memoirs, written with her daughter-in-law, Christy Jordan-Fenton. The first, Fatty Legs, recalled Margaret’s miserable, two-year stay at a residential school in the Northwest Territories. In the sequel, the Inuit girl, now 10 years old, returns to her family, but the homecoming is not as she hoped. The experience at the school seems to have changed her so much that her mother at first insists she is “not my girl.”
Margaret feels rejected and misunderstood as she struggles to recall her native language, eat the food her mother prepares, and reconcile her “outsiders’ education” with her family’s customs. Even her given name, Olemaun, sounds foreign.
Finding solace in books, Margaret gradually finds ways to reconnect with her family and surroundings. As she becomes Olemaun once again, she reclaims her place in the family, proudly wearing her mother’s parka, driving her own sled, and going on a hunt with her father. When she returns to school after a year at home, Margaret is stronger, wiser, and better equipped to deal with the assaults on her native culture and identity.
The story presents a moving portrait of one family’s difficult reconciliation and of the deep wounds left by the residential school system. The prose, written from the perspective of 10-year-old Margaret, is simple, honest, and infused with a young girl’s mixed emotions, making the story accessible and engrossing.
Small photos in the margins, meant to illustrate aspects of the narrative, are distracting. However, Liz Amini-Holmes’s illustrations are beautifully rendered, capturing the landscape in rich, saturated colours. In combination with Margaret’s story, they help create a textured, compelling book.
Reviewed by Cynthia O’Brien (from the November 2011 issue)