'Truth is truth': why Michelle Good's residential school fiction resonates
The very definition of fiction is not factual — but Michelle Good will tell you there is plenty of truth in her book, Five Little Indians.
Good, who is nehiyaw from Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, wrote about a fictional story about five residential school survivors who stuck together as children but, chart their own difficult paths as young adults.
While the characters are not real, their experiences, their lives, and their hardships are similar to what residential school survivors faced and the repercussions they live with today.
"Something need not be factual to be true," Good said. "Sometimes what we find in fiction is overwhelmingly the truth."
Good is not a residential school survivor herself, but grew up around people who were. Good is a survivor of the foster care system, though — an experience she said helped her relate to those around her.
At the time she was aging out of foster care at age 18, others were aging out of residential school, too. Good said once they were out, it was sink-or-swim.
"I remember experiencing some of the challenges that the characters experienced as well in terms of trying to find your way with no support, with no resources, with basically nothing," she said.
Nine years to write
It took Good nine years to write Five Little Indians, letting her characters dictate where their stories went. Good said she felt like more of a scribe for her characters than the engineer.
But there were aspects of the characters' stories where Good inserted extrapolations of real events that happened to her mother.
In the book, the 11-year-old girls are speaking to a motel manager where they work and he tells them that "you Indian chicks, you're only good for two things, and they both happen in hotel rooms."
When Good's mother was 11, the principal at her residential school told her that she "would never be anything but a no good Indian slut."
"That concept of Indigenous women, which has played such an important role in the devastation of the lives of Indigenous women, is reflected in my mother's story and is reflected in the novel in that way," Good said.
The book has received critical acclaim, being longlisted for the Giller Prize and shortlisted for the Rogers Writers' Trust Awards. Good thinks the characters have been relatable to readers, and that they resonate with a sense of humanity.
She said even though the book is fiction, there are moments of truth all over the place that readers will pick up.
"Truth is truth. No matter what platform you find for it, it's truth," Good said.
"People respond to the truth, whether they intellectually understand that this is a truth in the form of fiction, they respond viscerally when that truth hits them. And I think that's what this book has been able to do."