The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (The Marrow Thieves #1)

In a futuristic world ravaged by global warming, people have lost the ability to dream, and the dreamlessness has led to widespread madness. The only people still able to dream are North America's Indigenous people, and it is their marrow that holds the cure for the rest of the world. But getting the marrow, and dreams, means death for the unwilling donors. Driven to flight, a fifteen-year-old and his companions struggle for survival, attempt to reunite with loved ones and take refuge from the "recruiters" who seek them out to bring them to the marrow-stealing "factories."

TITLE: The Marrow Thieves
AUTHOR: Cherie Dimaline
PUBLISHER: Dancing Cat Books
YEAR: 2017
LENGTH: 240 pages
AGE: Young Adult
GENRE: Speculative Fiction

Queer Rep Summary: Gay/Achillean Secondary Character(s).

THE MARROW THIEVES speculates that, given the opportunity and incentive, settlers would do what they’ve always done and steal the very dreams from the bones of Indigenous people in a last, desperate attempt to save themselves. And it won’t work. It’s not dystopian, nor apocalyptic, but five-minutes-in-the-future speculative  fiction because the necessary backstory is the real history that’s already happened. The “generic dystopia” version would include a factory tour and a lot more gore, rather than this (much better) story of a community trying to stay together. It’s wholly uninterested in gazing at the machinery of pain, but is focused on community, memory, and surviving long enough to have a chance at thriving.

The term "found family" is both accurate and inadequate for the character relationships. They're the remnants of a much larger and more complex community which was hunted, shattered, and even now is pursued. They were part of a community generally even before they found each other specifically, and now they're all they have left. Frenchie lost his parents before the novel opens, and loses his brother in the opening chapter. He finds a group of traveling Indigenous people, on the move in order to stay alive. I like Miig as a leader, he's doing his best and focusing on teaching the younger ones what they'll need to know. He and Minerva are working to pass on their culture, balancing the need to understand with the maturity of the individual children. 

A lot of the worldbuilding is conveyed though stories, either “Story” told nightly by Miig, or the characters’ “creation stories”, each person’s own history of how they came to be with the group. It lends a ponderous air to these details, where the reader’s desire to know more synchronizes with Frenchie’s hunger for any scrap of connection he can get. From the premise, I anticipated a scene in the factories, detailing the dystopia through voyeuristic gaze into the mechanisms used to cause their suffering. It doesn’t do that, thankfully, it stays focused on the characters, their journey, and their community. The physical bits of worldbuilding are in the places they pass through, the abandoned structures, and the garbage on the ground, the detritus that marks the wreckage of the world that was and the dangerous other people who also inhabit it.

I love the way the plot is unhurried. The endless travel is devoid of meaningful landmarks except for detritus. The pivotal scenes mostly hinge either on encounters with others or from stories. This changes toward the end after an encounter irrevocably changes the status quo and prompts them to change how they're running. I love the ending, it would be the best part if not for how great the rest of the book is.

CW for sexual content (brief), cursing, ableist language (brief), alcohol (backstory), alcoholism (backstory), drug use (backstory), dug abuse (backstory), kidnapping (graphic), confinement (backstory), starvation (graphic), genocide (graphic), sexual assault, rape, child abuse, physical abuse, excrement (brief), vomit (brief), violence, gun violence, cannibalism, animal death, parental death (backstory), child death, murder, major character death, death.

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A close up of an Indigenous boy's face, a streak of white paint reaches from his cheekbones to the edge of his jaw.


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