Canada Reads·Canada Reads 2022

Read an excerpt from Canada Reads finalist Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

Five Little Indians will be championed by Christian Allaire on Canada Reads 2022.

Five Little Indians will be championed by Christian Allaire on Canada Reads 2022

Five Little Indians is a novel by Michelle Good. (Harper Perennial, Candice Camille)

Christian Allaire is defending Five Little Indians by Michelle Good on Canada Reads 2022.

Canada Reads will take place March 28-31. The debates will be hosted by Ali Hassan and will be broadcast on CBC Radio OneCBC TVCBC Gem and on CBC Books

In Five Little Indians, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie were taken from their families and sent to a residential school when they were very small. Barely out of childhood, they are released without resources and left to establish adult lives on their own in Vancouver. Haunted by the trauma of their childhood, the five friends cross paths over the decades and struggle with the weight of their shared past. 

You can read an excerpt from Five Little Indians below.

"Man, you went nuts!" Wilfred shook his head, laughing.

"Well, eff him. Geez, a guy should get paid what he's owed. This's why I want a place away from people. No BS." Kenny shook his head. "Now what the hell am I gonna do? No pay and no doubt he's blacklisted me. I won't get any more work this year, around here anyway."

"Well, I wouldn't worry about the pay part of it." Wilfred started emptying his pockets. He pulled a big wad of crumpled bills from his jeans pocket and then reached for his jacket pockets.

Kenny did a double take and laughed. "What the hell, man!"

"It was raining money. Thought I best get our share." Smiling, Wilfred handed a couple of wads to Kenny. "Come on, let's count it."

They counted, making neat piles of the ones and fives, tens and twenties. Kenny pulled out the forty Rosa had given him and added it to the pile.

"Remind you of anything?" Kenny nudged Wilfred with his elbow and smiled.

Wilfred looked up and burst out laughing. "Yeah, the raids. Man, we sure made out. The staff leftovers. They had such good food. My mouth is watering just thinking about it."

They counted, making neat piles of the ones and fives, tens and twenties. Kenny pulled out the forty Rosa had given him and added it to the pile.

Kenny nodded. "Yep. Between the raids and the fiddleheads in the bush, we survived. Okay, I got two hundred and twenty-seven dollars in this pile."

Wilfred laid down the last of his bills. "One hundred and ninety-three. We're rich!"

Kenny massaged his scraped knuckles. "Well, we got enough to lay low for a couple of days while we figure out what to do." He handed his pile of bills to Wilfred, who quietly counted and divided the total in two, handing Kenny half.

Wilfred stood and stretched. "I'm going to walk into town and get some food and a few supplies. See if I can steal some ass-wipe from the café." They both laughed. "They won't be looking for me. I'll see ya in a couple of hours."

"Sounds good." Kenny took his boots off and stretched out on his sleeping bag, arms crossed behind his head. He closed his eyes as Wilfred headed for town.

He slept longer than planned, the sun already behind the horizon when the knock and shuffle of Wilfred making a fire woke him. Kenny had dreamed of her again, as he often had in the years since he'd left the Mission: Lucy and her almost smile, passing him a note and then she was gone.

"What happened to her?"

"Oh, you're finally awake there!" Wilfred stacked the firewood. "Everyone in town is talking about the crazy Indian in the apple orchards. I think the cops are lookin' for you."

"They'll get bored soon enough." Kenny sat up and flexed his skinned knuckles.

"What happened to who?"

"Your sister. Lucy."

"You still sweet on my little sister?"

Kenny blushed. "Just wondering." He thought of how much Wilfred had changed since he'd last seen him and wondered how different Lucy would be.

Wilfred fanned the little flames until they wrapped themselves around the dry twigs and branches, burning hot and smokeless. He pulled out a can of beans and stabbed it with his hunting knife, neatly working his way around the edge to open the can. "She's in Vancouver. I heard she's working at some fleabag hotel." He placed the can of beans in the fire, its ragged lid still attached, setting it at an angle to protect the contents from floating ash. "She's single, I think. You know, I never really knew her well. She was just a toddler when I was taken. They whipped my ass when I tried to talk to her when they brought her to the Mission. They didn't care she was my sister."

They sat at the fire, watching the beans rise and bubble. Kenny turned to his friend. "And whatever happened to Howie after he escaped? Did you ever hear from him? I wonder if he's still down the States."

"Nope, never saw him again, but I heard he had to leave the States because he didn't have proper paperwork or something. I ran into some of the guys from the school and they said they heard he was back in Arrowhead Bay trying to get his papers fixed and he ran into Brother. Kicked his ass. Beat him to a pulp. Heard he almost died. I don't know if Howie escaped or got thrown in the can."

He pulled out a can of beans and stabbed it with his hunting knife, neatly working his way around the edge to open the can.

"I felt so sorry for that kid. He was so small and terrified all the time. I think Brother would have killed him if he hadn't escaped."

"Yeah. I remember that morning. I thought he was already dead, he was so limp, and all that blood."

Wilfred used two twigs to pull the can out of the coals and set it between himself and Kenny. He pulled two small forks from his shirt pocket and handed one to Kenny, smiling. "Nabbed them from the café along with the TP."

Kenny laughed. "Some things don't change, eh? Still making raids to get by." The friends took turns taking forkfuls of beans from the can, as the hesitant dusk turned into night, the full moon casting a pale reflection on the creek. "Don't know what I'm gonna do now."

"You ever worked the logging camps on the island?" Wilfred took the last bite of beans and rinsed out the can in the creek. "Pretty good coin if you can get on. Lots of jobs, but you kinda have to know someone."

Kenny nodded thoughtfully. "Naw. Never had enough money for the gear. This guy once told me you can make enough money in the logging season to live well for the year."

"Well, you burned your bridges here. Might as well go. I know a guy. I'll give you his number. He might be able to get you on."

"What about you?"

"No cops lookin' for me." Wilfred laughed. "I'll find another apple orchard. Finish out the season."

The young men spent the rest of the night catching up and drinking tea made in the bean can with tea bags also lifted from the hapless café. The next morning, they bundled up their few possessions and stood, now at a loss for words, as the day pulled them in different directions.

"Man, it was good to run into you, Kenny." Wilfred reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper. "Here, this is that guy's number. Pretty sure he'll get you workin'. Tell him I said hi. I was his lead hand for a while. Oh, and this is the place Lucy was working. If she's still there."

"Thanks, man. You gonna head back toward town?"

"Might as well. Maybe the competition is hiring."

Kenny looked in the other direction. "Well, I think I'm gonna follow the creek for a while. Stay off the road. Head for the border."

Wilfred held his hand out to his friend. "Good plan."

With nothing left to say, they shook hands. Wilfred headed south, Kenny north, looking over his shoulder once, waving to his friend.

Kenny walked along the meandering creek, enjoying the sound of it when it narrowed and quickened, the peace of it when it widened and slowed, deeper and quieter, the rusty-coloured stones casting a sparkling copper tone on the crystalline water. There was a bitter sweetness in seeing his old friend. He was happy to share their tricky survival memories; it was the other ones, the ones that slipped in through the silences, that he was relieved to lose in his usual solitude.

Adapted from Five Little Indians by Michelle Good. Copyright © 2020 Michelle Good. Published by HarperCollins Canada. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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