Echo Desjardins, a 13-year-old Métis girl adjusting to a new home and school, is struggling with loneliness while separated from her mother. Then an ordinary day in Mr. Bee’s history class turns extraordinary, and Echo’s life will never be the same. During Mr. Bee’s lecture, Echo finds herself transported to another time and place—a bison hunt on the Saskatchewan prairie—and back again to the present. In the following weeks, Echo slips back and forth in time. She visits a Métis camp, travels the old fur-trade routes, and experiences the perilous and bygone era of the Pemmican Wars.
Pemmican Wars is the first graphic novel in a new series, A Girl Called Echo, by Governor General Award–winning writer, and author of Highwater Press’ The Seven Teaching Stories, Katherena Vermette.
Pemmican Wars is a short but ambitious graphic novel. Katherena Vermette's narrative runs on two levels: one is the story of a 13-year-old facing a number of life challenges (isolation within her school environment, a fractured relationship with her mother, and a search for identification with her Métis heritage), and the other being an historical account of decades of conflict between the Métis and the commercial interests and settlers of the area which became the Red River Colony. Compared to many graphic novels I have read, Pemmican Wars is not text-intensive; Echo is often monosyllabic in her responses, and the only teacher with dialogue is her history teacher. However, Henderson's drawings and Yaciuk's colourations combine powerfully in graphics which carry both narratives. The scenes of the buffalo hunt, life in the hunting camp, and the confrontation at Seven Oaks are vibrantly-coloured, conveying the intensity of the action, events, and family life of the Métis.
The graphic novel delves into a time period that many readers may know little about, offering particular resonance by connecting the past to a contemporary teen. Using only sparse text, the artist brilliantly includes details that give the story depth and specificity, not only in terms of the representation of the Métis nation, but also in Echo’s family dynamics and the intensity of her loneliness and isolation. Strong use of comics technique, a unique examination of a fascinating time of history, and the thoughtful narration by an aboriginal teen make this a must-read and a strong classroom or library choice.
...feelings of alienation, of loneliness, of not belonging, either at home or at school, are experienced by both genders and those teens – male or female - who eat their lunch alone and wander the halls without friends will understand Echo's plight Although I think that Pemmican Wars is a book which will find its greatest readership amongst students with Métis or Indigenous heritage, those who are the descendants of settlers will be offered a new perspective with this book.
In this YA graphic novel, an alienated Métis girl learns about her people’s Canadian history. [...] A sparse, beautifully drawn story about a teen discovering her heritage.
Henderson’s realistic art and perfect pacing, particularly in the pages of wordless panels depicting Echo’s daily routine, highlight her silent nature and hint at the source of her unspoken sadness. Solitary teens are likely to strongly identify with Echo and look forward to more of her adventures.
Vermette expertly juxtaposes the isolation of an aboriginal teen in the current day with the emphasis on working together in traditional Métis communities. Henderson’s artwork and Yaciuk’s colours help to emphasize the differences between the past and present, as gorgeous prairie panoramas in vibrant hues contrast with crowded, dingy hallways and buses. [...] This reviewer is eagerly awaiting the second volume of the series.
Recognition is due Katherena Vermette’s collaborators on Echo – illustrator Scott B. Henderson and color artist Donovan Yaciuk. Because Echo speaks so seldom, it’s on the illustrations to convey key details about her life. And they do so with subtlety and grace! For example, the letters WPG on the front of a bus Echo rides signal that she's in Winnipeg. Or so I'm told.