Why Susan Currie's life and novel are defined by her cultural roots

The young adult novelist explains how she discovered her Indigenous heritage and how it's reflected in her book, The Mask That Sang.
The Mask That Sang, winner of the Second Story Press Aboriginal Writing Contest, is about a young girl waking up to her Cayuga heritage. (Second Story Press/Twitter)

The Mask That Sang is a young adult novel that begins with a daughter and a mother, both having a very bad day. Cass, the daughter, is being bullied at school and her single mother, Denise, has just lost her job. That night, Denise receives a letter from her late biological mother, whom she never knew. That letter will change everything; where they live, what home means and who they really are. 

The Mask That Sang was a finalist for the 2017 Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit and Métis young adult literature.

Digging up the roots

"I had a great upbringing with my adoptive parents, but I always wondered about my own background. After some searching, I learned that my family is Cayuga and my grandmother, Marjorie Hill, grew up at Six Nations. I learned about the fragmentation that happened to the family, coinciding with Marjorie's attendance at residential school. It was an extraordinary history, a very sad family history, but it was one that I was really excited to have because it was mine. Processing this knowledge, my history and my identity, fit well into the structure of The Mask That Sang. It was a surprise to me when I found out my history and it's a surprise for Denise as well."

Living without a community

"Before I found out about my family history, I sometimes felt like I didn't cast a shadow. I think Cass's life is similar — a life without roots. Denise is going from job to job and Cass is going from school to school. Part of the legacy of what Denise's mother went through in residential school filters right down to Cass and her lack of confidence in herself. That's the sort of life they've been living. They've been without a community and without roots."

A question of legitimacy

"I went around to a lot of my Indigenous friends and asked whether I'm legitimate enough to write a book about the Indigenous experience when I grew up in a white family and had a middle-class upbringing. I asked if I had anything to say in this conversation. Everyone told me, 'You represent some of that fragmentation and some of that seeking to reconcile.' In a way, I can represent both sides of the story."

Susan Currie's comments have been edited and condensed.