Now or Never Publishing, April 15, 2015.
This book is challenging to review, mainly because I’m not clear on how much of it is memoir and how much is fiction. It feels like a memoir, especially when it comes to the authentic flaws of the characters and even the narrator. However, if it is fiction, I feel like some of the characterizations could have been improved, as they often drift into the realm of cliché.
The narrator, Peter, is growing up in small-town Ontario in the 1970s, when he meets new student Otis, an Ojibwa boy who is wise beyond his years (this was one of the stereotypes that I felt bordered on racist cliché, but that’s without knowing if he’s based on fact). Through Otis’ eyes, Peter sees his own world from the perspective of an outsider, which changes his outlook on family, school, and life in general. The arrival and friendship of Otis shakes Peter out of his complacency, and allows him to form his own morals and beliefs outside of the influence of his family and peers.
Otis has a kindness and respect for the world and everyone in it, regardless of class, race, etc. He had a Christian upbringing with his elderly adoptive parents, but he later drops out of the Western education system in order to focus on the Native traditions of his elders. Otis is more mature than most of the adults around him, taking charge in the midst of some pretty awful high school scenarios, including bullying, rape, and drug use. He reflects that “[t]here is a lot of hate in the world. There are far worse things than loving someone who’s the same sex as you are.” (p. 57) The issues these high school students are forced to deal with really show the grittiness of the new Can Lit, with moments of goodness in between.
Although Peter readily admits to his own flaws, his friendship with Otis changes his outlook on life for the better. He doesn’t drastically change, but he does become more accepting of himself and those around him. The book is really a love letter of friendship between the two boys – Peter greatly admires Otis, and tells us he “marvelled at my friend’s brave decency.” (p. 104)
The strongest parts of The Night Drummer were the insights into the adolescent mind, which is what made me feel that it was a direct reflection of Mason’s own teenage years. While the ending didn’t completely ring true for me, it did touch on some meaningful coming-of-age themes: innocence, possibility, and eventually, hope.
I received this book for free from Now or Never Publishing and Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.