The MIddle of Everywhere

The Middle of Everywhere

By Margaret Goldik

A review of The Middle Of Everywhere by Monique Polak

Published on September 1, 2009

The Middle Of Everywhere
Monique Polak

Orca Book Publishers
$12.95
paper
201pp
978-1-55469-090-9

Monique Polak’s Young Adult fiction titles are becoming a resource for parents and teachers alike. In her latest offering we meet 15-year-old Noah Thorpe, who is spending the school year with his father, a teacher in Quebec’s far north. Noah’s parents separated years ago, and this time was meant to allow Noah and his dad to get to know each other better. The elder Thorpe also wants to share his enthusiasm for the North and its people.

Noah feels no such enthusiasm. He doesn’t like the cold or the lack of things to do, he misses his friends, and to top it off, he seems to have exchanged his Montreal bully for an Inuk one. He tries not to hurt his dad’s feelings, but his thoughts show how little liking he has for the Inuit and their culture. But gradually Noah sees the North through other eyes, and comes to have a clearer understanding of some of the problems that plague the Inuit: the long-term effects of residential schools, suicides, school dropouts, and drunkenness. There are other references to the effect that climate change is having on the North, the traditional hunting and fishing that are practiced, which some in the south feel is reprehensible, and the irresponsible behaviour of some Quallunaat (white) northern workers. Some of these references are just dropped casually into the text, but teachers can use these as teaching components for a wider understanding of northern Quebec.

The massacre of the Inuit sled dogs by the RCMP and the Sûreté du Québec, which happened decades ago, is currently in the news, with a preliminary report produced by retired judge Jean-Jacques Croteau about the still-festering issue. The reason for the massacre is given in The Middle of Everywhere as an attempt to destroy the Inuit’s nomadic way of life and force them into settlements. The report blames overzealous officers who tried to apply the “stray dog” laws of the south, with a “total lack of awareness of the Inuit way of life.” Whether malice or cultural misunderstanding caused the killings, the effect was the same. But things are changing: two of the characters in The Middle of Everywhere have started the task of bringing sled dogs back to the North, as an antidote to the ubiquitous snowmobile.

As Noah learns to appreciate silence, snow, and the importance of community, the reader also learns that the world one takes for granted here in the “south” is only an infinitesimal part of a larger Canada. mRb

Margaret Goldik is a former editor of the Montreal Review of Books.

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