Visions of the Crow (HighWater Press) is a YA graphic novel that tells the engaging story of Damon Quinn, a teenager who just wants to get through his senior year unscathed. His mom struggles with alcohol and is barely coping with the day-to-day.
Damon has to navigate his relationship with difficult classmates and a mysterious new girl—not to mention the mysterious crow following him everywhere. It’s a book the Vancouver Suncalls “a sensitive blending of hard truths and magical realism," and it is the first volume of John-Kehewin's Dreams series.
Wanda John-Kehewin (she, her, hers) is a Cree writer who uses her work to understand and respond to the near destruction of First Nations cultures, languages, and traditions. When she first arrived in Vancouver on a Greyhound bus, she was a nineteen-year-old carrying her first child, a bag of chips, a bottle of pop, thirty dollars, and a bit of hope. After many years of travelling (well, mostly stumbling) along her healing journey, she shares her personal life experiences with others to shed light on the effects of trauma and how to break free from the "monkeys in the brain." Now a published poet, fiction author, and film scriptwriter, she writes to stand in her truth and to share that truth openly. She is the author of the Dreams series of graphic novels. Hopeless in Hope is her first novel for young adults.
TC: Visions of the Crow tells the story of Damon Quinn, a high school student trying to cope with his relationship with his mom, plus his struggles at school and with his Indigenous identity. How did the story come to life for you?
WJK: The story came to life when I decided to tell a story I wish I had read as a youth. As a child and youth, I read everything I could get my hands on, even Harlequin Romances from aunties who shared dog-eared copies until they were missing the cover, and when everyone read it, it would be mine. I also read most of the books in the library (it was a pretty small Reserve school library), including National Geographic.
Reading something like Visions of the Crow would have made my life easier. I wouldn’t have felt so alone. I wanted to write a story about real-life spiritual superheroes who do the work and succeed at breaking cycles of sadness and hurt. I want to say break cycles of intergenerational trauma, but that statement itself feels heavy. This story is to all the kids who ever asked themselves, “Why me?” or “Why does my mom or dad drink so much, or perhaps why do they have addictions? I wanted to show youth that sometimes we come from hardships and challenging situations, but we can always have hope. We can always ask for help. We can always strive for better, one little step at a time.
I wanted to write a story about real-life spiritual superheroes who do the work and succeed at breaking cycles of sadness and hurt.
TC: The book is a collaboration with nicole marie burton, whose fabulous illustrations bring Damon and the other characters so vividly to life. How did the two of you work together on the book?
WJK: Working with Nicole was amazing, and I know we were both learning, which makes this book more memorable. It makes it our baby that we "raised" with our "grandparent elder" Irene (Superhero Editor), who taught us how to raise it! I see it as a beautiful collaboration of people from different parts of Canada, different walks of life, and different life experiences. It was many back-and-forth discussions over email and Zoom. It was much learning from each other and new things about myself during this process.
TC: Who are you most hoping to reach with the Dreams series?
WJK: I want to reach Reserves across Canada and the children and youth there. This isn’t only for youth; adults can read it too. One of my friends read it who isn’t a youth – she thoroughly enjoyed it and said she wishes she could have read it in school and even university. So this is for everyone who ever had a parent/guardian with addiction or self-identity issues. I am also hoping to reach non-Indigenous audiences because addictions don’t just happen in the Indigenous community; they happen worldwide. Last, I hope to reach non-Indigenous youth and teachers to create a bridge of understanding and perhaps start dialogue and healing.
TC: In your opinion, what are the most essential elements of good storytelling?
WJK: The most important thing to happen in a good story is that the antagonist has to go on a journey and have some epiphany or positive change. Good storytelling requires the antagonist to overcome challenges, face fears, and have supportive friends/family/animals to help them get through the journey. So the most essential element to good storytelling is to have it relatable. A good story always has three "acts" with a problem, the journey, and a solution. A good storyteller keeps readers guessing about what will happen next. If the reader can predict where the story will go, then it doesn’t give those emotional curve balls to the readers.
A good storyteller keeps readers guessing about what will happen next. If the reader can predict where the story will go, then it doesn’t give those emotional curve balls to the readers.
TC: Now that we’ve followed Damon through some important life lessons—and healing with his mother and with himself—can you give us a hint about what’s to come in the next instalment?
WJK: Hmmmm. Without giving away too much, we will see Journey and Marcus more as this trilogy progresses. They navigate life in a contemporary world, trying to retain or learn about culture. We will also see Damon, Marnie, and Journey having to make tough choices that impact their lives. We see love, family, and heartbreak as well. I think that’s all I can say! I want the reader to be surprised.