A family tries to learn from the mistakes of past generations in this whirlwind memoir from a wholly original new voice.
The Caetanos move into a doomed house in the highway village of Happyland before an inevitable divorce pulls Cody’s parents in separate directions. His mom, Mindimooye, having discovered her Anishinaabe birth family and Sixties Scoop origin story, embarks on a series of fraught relationships and fresh starts. His dad, O Touro, a Portuguese immigrant and drifter, falls back into “big do, little think” behaviour, despite his best intentions.
Left alone at the house in Happyland, Cody and his siblings must fend for themselves, even as the pipes burst and the lights go out. His protective big sister, Kris, finds inventive ways to put food on the table, and his stoic big brother, Julian, facilitates his regular escapes into the world of video games. As life yanks them from one temporary solution to the next, they steal moments of joy and resist buckling under “baddie” temptations aplenty.
Capturing the chaos and wonder of a precarious childhood, Cody Caetano delivers a fever dream coming-of-age garnished with a slang all his own. Half-Bads in White Regalia is an unforgettable debut that unspools a tangled family history with warmth, humour, and deep generosity.
About the author
CODY CAETANO is a writer of Anishinaabe and Portuguese descent and an off-reserve member of Pinaymootang First Nation. He has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto, where he wrote this memoir under the mentorship of Lee Maracle. Excerpts of Half-Bads in White Regalia earned him a 2020 Indigenous Voices Award for Unpublished Prose.
Excerpt: Half-Bads in White Regalia: A Memoir (by (author) Cody Caetano)
Before I was born, and before we moved to Happyland, two half-bads named Mindimooye and O Touro rented a three-bedroom townhouse in Toronto’s Downsview neighbourhood. And while I have about zero memories of them ever getting intimate, mind a brief kiss during Fear Factor or a good-job-baby embrace after watching me beat the opening boss on Star Fox 64, they most certainly did a big do one awfully hot and soggy mid-August day in 1994. Cuz nine months later Mindimooye rushed her butt over to Women’s College Hospital when she broke water. Said I came out in no time flat and with an obstructed intestinal tract that made me gassy and colicky. She named me after Mel Gibson’s kid in Tequila Sunrise, which I’ve never watched and don’t plan on watching anytime soon, thank you very much. But just picture colicky me and Mindimooye getting plenty sick back then. Ziplocked ice cubes melting in pellets down her crown and the constant rhythm of pinching and twisting the lids off medicine bottles. Got this sick with my big brother, Julian, too. Rightfully blames the cartons of cigs and cough antibiotics, even remembers calling poison control one time. Anything to kick those vise-grip headaches and fevers that wouldn’t quit. Sometime around then I got dropped on the head, which explains a bit.
Like plenty, O Touro and Mindimooye got sick of living in the city. Cuz cities make people sick sometimes. Besides, O Touro had always wanted to leave and try raising his family on a river. Something to offer me and Julian and our big sister, Kristine. Cuz O Touro would swim as a fish if he could.
When Mindimooye got a job as a server at Casino Rama, making seven dollars an hour plus infinite tippage, she and O Touro went looking for a house around there. They wanted the bush but settled for half-bush. (If you can still hear the highway, you’re not in the bush.)
One of the casino bartenders who sometimes flirted with O Touro told them about this four-bedroom, two-floor house at the maw of a marshy forest that faded into leafy darkness. Granny suite on the bottom floor. Just a fifteen-minute drive from Sunshine City and Casino Rama, too. Rural route number three.
Neither of them minded the house’s occasional history of family-breaking. But their real estate agent did mention the previous owners when asked, including one claptrap couple who went through the nastiest and noisiest divorce in the county shortly after moving in. Never mind the families before them, too. I’ve always wondered if it was the house that broke the family or the family that broke the house. Maybe that’s why they got it so cheap.
Nobody knew about the swamp until long after we moved in. Sure, the previous owners had already solved a few of the plumbing problems by adding filtration systems and installing a reverse osmosis system under the kitchen sink so whoever lived there had a drinking source. Yes, the current divorcing owners’ cats left a batch of fleas as a housewarming gift, but the new ones wanted the house too much to give a crap. O Touro wanted the pool table, the lawnmower, the blinds, all of it.
So in 1997, the five of us moved into Happyland with help from some aunties and uncles. And it wasn’t too long before O Touro began building a debarked cedar fence around the perimeter, right before the front and backyards dipped into a channel moat that would fill with slush during the many stormy days and nights to come.
“Memoirs are a difficult alchemy of testimony and confession, scene-making and character-building. They have to soften the hard things and show the way through at every turn—or at least they should—and that’s what Cody Caetano does in Half-Bads in White Regalia. No one gets off easy, but everyone is drawn with unflinching love and respect. Nothing seems wholly remarkable, yet everything is turned to see its beauty. Poetry permeates this prose, poetry and this wholly unique voice and style that somehow made me laugh and cry often, and in the oddest places. Read it. You won’t regret it. Telling you.”
—Katherena Vermette, author of The Strangers
“A brilliant and devastating debut. This book hurtles towards difficult understandings about love and violence and family. At times I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry, but Caetano fills each moment with such character and humanity that it’s impossible not to fall in love.”
—Jordan Abel, author of NISHGA
“It’s rare to meet a narrator who, from the very first page, is so clear in voice and personality. Half-Bads in White Regalia charts a remarkable life, filled with a constellation of kin-characters, but it’s really the outstandingly crafted speaker who makes this book a standout. At times soft and confessional, at times practically hardboiled, Caetano shows us his world but dares us to live up to the challenge of learning his life. Here is a book that sings the craft of memoir and life-telling.”
—Jenny Heijun Wills, author of Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related.
“Cody Caetano spins a tale much like other Ojibway storytellers. Rich in metaphor, plot, and some very serious comedy, he keeps the reader attending to the writing.”
—Lee Maracle, author of My Conversations with Canadians
“Reading Half-Bads in White Regalia feels like one of those rare and transcendent friendships that form in an evening and last for a lifetime, which is to me the mark of an exquisite storyteller. Caetano’s winsome, sparkler prose invites into a mind bearing witness to its own precocious development and wild inheritances. It is an absolute interstellar triumph of a debut and a worthy descendent of voices such as Maya Angelou and Mary Karr. I know I’ll carry its boyhood wonder and tender resilience with me for many years to come.”
—Liz Howard, author of Letters in a Bruised Cosmos
“Caetano’s voice leaps off the page with a rhythmic, hip-hop style right from the first page. . . . [It] gives this memoir energy and descriptive heft.”