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published: March 2019
ISBN:9781553797845
imprint: HighWater Press

Surviving the City

by Tasha Spillett, illustrated by Natasha Donovan

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canada, aboriginal & indigenous, girls & women
0 of 5
0 ratings
rated!
rated!
list price: $15.00
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
published: March 2019
ISBN:9781553797845
imprint: HighWater Press
Description

Tasha Spillett’s graphic novel debut, Surviving the City, is a story about womanhood, friendship, colonialism, and the anguish of a missing loved one. Miikwan and Dez are best friends. Miikwan is Anishinaabe; Dez is Inninew. Together, the teens navigate the challenges of growing up in an urban landscape – they’re so close, they even completed their Berry Fast together. However, when Dez’s grandmother becomes too sick, Dez is told she can’t stay with her anymore. With the threat of a group home looming, Dez can’t bring herself to go home and disappears. Miikwan is devastated, and the wound of her missing mother resurfaces. Will Dez’s community find her before it’s too late? Will Miikwan be able to cope if they don’t?

About the Authors
Tasha Spillett (she/her/hers) draws her strength from her Nehiyaw and Trinidadian bloodlines. She is a celebrated educator, poet, and emerging scholar. Tasha is most heart-tied to community-led work that centres on land and water defence and the protection of Indigenous women and girls. Tasha is working on her PhD in Education (University of Saskatchewan) and holds a Vanier Canada Award. 
 
Author profile page >

Natasha Donovan (she/her/hers) is a self-taught illustrator from Vancouver, British Columbia. She has a degree in Anthropology from the University of British Columbia. Before starting out as a freelance artist, she worked in publishing at the University of Victoria. Her sequential work has been published in the Other Side Anthology. Natasha is a member of the Métis Nation of British Columbia. She lives in Bellingham, Washington.
Author profile page >
Contributor Notes

Tasha Spillett (she/her/hers) draws her strength from both her Nehiyaw and Trinidadian bloodlines. She is a celebrated educator, poet, and emerging scholar. Tasha is most heart-tied to contributing to community-led work that centres on land and water defence, and the protection of Indigenous women and girls. Tasha is currently working on her PhD in Education through the University of Saskatchewan, where she holds a Vanier Canada Award. 

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
Age:
12 to 18
Grade:
7 to 12
Awards
  • , <DIV>Chosen for the 49th Shelf recommended reading list, The BFF List. A list for new books for teens and young readers about the challenges and rewards of friendship. And yes, the drama too, which always makes for good reading.</DIV>
  • Winner, <DIV>Winner of the Indigenous Voices Award, Alternate Format</DIV>
  • , <DIV>Nominated for the <I>2020 MYRCA Northern Lights</I> list</DIV>
  • Winner, <DIV><B>Won</B> Manuela Dias Design and Illustration Award, Graphic Novel category</DIV>
  • Winner, <DIV>Tasha Spillett won Manitoba Indigenous Writer of the Year Award</DIV>
  • , <DIV>Nominated for Great Graphic Novels for Teens List</DIV>
  • Winner, <DIV>Winner of Manuela Dias Design and Illustration?Awards, Graphic Novel</DIV>
  • Winner, <DIV><B>Won</B> Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book by a Manitoba Author</DIV>
Editorial Reviews

#5 on the McNally Robinson Booksellers bestseller list

— McNally Robinson

This is an important book that should be read by everyone. Missing indigenous women and girls is a huge problem within both Canada and the United States. And it doesn't get the attention it deserves. Everyone should be concerned about this and helping to make this come to an end. No more!

— NetGalley

This graphic novel explores the plight of indigenous women and girls in Canada. The art and story was beautiful. Everyone should read this.

— NetGalley

Graphic novels that are memoirs or lean toward nonfiction are some of my favorites. I think it’s a really powerful way to tell a very personal story, and this is a great example.

Surviving the City illustrates the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada by following two girls facing numerous barriers in their school and social service support system. It challenges the idea that the systems we have benefit all people fairly and speaks to the generational trauma that indigenous people carry.

The artwork was a little too clean for me (I usually like the hand sketched look best), but the colors and flow of the story were really wonderful. Within the story itself, there are several moments in which I wondered what something was (such as the berry fast), and I love that the graphic novel doesn’t do your work for you - it gives you enough that you can follow up and learn more.

Thanks to netgalley for letting me sneak a look at this graphic novel early and for promoting a story by native authors and with native protagonists!

— NetGalley

I pre-ordered as soon as I read it. It was haunting and gorgeous and I already want to read it again. I can't wait to put this in my kid's hands.

— NetGalley

Whoa! Talk about raising awareness! This reminds me of why I truly love to read, why I became a Librarian, books like this. Not just to be entertained, but to learn, then to put this book in the hands of others! God, I cannot wait until this is published, this is the kind of book you go hunting for when it’s a day late! Is March 15th a hard date or can we get this out there sooner?!?!?! Excellent work, we need more from Spillett!

— NetGalley

In this haunting graphic novel, debut author Spillett and Donovan (The Sockeye Mother) present a story of girls growing up with the historical legacy of Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people, particularly women and girls.

— Publishers Weekly

I started this graphic novel with no idea of what was to come. What I got was a touching, diverse read. Characters struggling in their world and trying to hold on to the life they have. Friendship that makes a family. In this story we have teen girls, both from native tribes, learning their way in “regular” school. This world is different from what their culture finds “normal”. The only difficulty I had was trying to understand some of the illustrations that would blend current themes with native ones. #SurvivingtheCity #NetGalley

— NetGalley

Just in time for Women’s History month comes this offering from Portage & Main Press centering an group that we rarely see represented anywhere in most media: Indigenous people and especially Indigenous girls and women. Familiar with Portage & Main Press when I picked up and read A Girl Called Echo, Vol. 1 (Pemmican Wars) penned by Métis writer Katherena Vermette, I figured that I’d once again be able to read another graphic novel centering these women handled by a female creative team and this time both members with an Indigenous background. This graphic novel features two best friends, Miikwan and Dez, and chronicles their struggles not only being young but Indigenous young women navigating a world that historically hasn’t been kind to those who look like them. Miikwan is Anishinaabe, and Dez is Inninew. Their friendship is strong, something akin to sisters, and they find themselves tested like never before.

This is writer Spillett’s debut graphic novel, and I couldn’t be happier to have a narrative written about Indigenous girls from an Indigenous woman who writes that she is most heart-tied to contributing to community-led work that centers on land and water defense, and the protection of Indigenous women and girls. As an educator, poet, and emerging scholar who draws her strength from both her Nehiyaw and Trinidadian bloodlines, I’m furthermore happier to see an educator writing a book about Brown girls aimed at tween and teen readers.

WHEW. The narrative presented in this comic offering does several things, and it’s done so right–this work is not only centering Indigenous girls and women but also giving us a beautiful glimpse of sisterhood. Miikwan and Dez celebrate each other, their coming into womanhood together, fret, fall victim to fear, try to protect each other and ultimately make it back to each other. There was a world wind of emotions I experienced reading and following along in their journey; sometimes I wept, other times I cheered, and smiling at them being together and safe.

I picked up on the strong sense of community portrayed on the pages, from a parent who pops in with a family heirloom when needed with a kind word, to a counselor at school who takes one girl aside to listen and offer a spiritual resolution that honors ancestors, and to a female stranger who comes to the aid of a runaway teen girl. Spillett pens a tale where community matters and kinfolk ain’t just your skin folk and the narrative is strengthened as a result. There are so many stereotypes that plague People of Color, Native and Indigenous people don’t escape this reality, yet in this book there are no gross jokes beaten into our consciousness. They are no unfortunate caricatures of the folks who walked these lands before colonization disrupted their ways of life.

It is in one of the strongest and most emotional sequences of pages in the book where Dez reveals that she is afraid of being separated from her grandmother because of her ailing health. It is also in this moment that the book shines brightly. The threat of being sent to a group home makes Dez feel that she will be taken away from home, her kin, and everything she loves. It really touches upon what isn’t empathized enough–the trauma that sets itself in the genetic makeup of many groups of People of Color and also ethnic groups that have endured and survived horrific events. (Trauma from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade continues to plague Black folks for example. More and more people are living with PTSD symptoms as researchers are linking together trauma and heritability.)

For this, I appreciate the attention to detail here and the cultural authenticity. Dez refers to her grandmother as her Kokum, a Native counselor chants a prayer with an offering for their ancestors in another language-in Anishinaabemown with translations by Jerry Summer. While I believe that this book is accessible, I will note that I don’t believe for one minute that this book caters to the white or male gaze. This is why I was elated to learn that the illustrator of this graphic novel was also another Indigenous woman. Artist Dononvan is a freelance creative and illustrator from Vancouver, British Columbia. A member of the Métis Nation of British Columbia, her sequential work has been published in The Other Side anthology, and she’s responsible for the art for award-winning children’s book, The Sockeye Mother.

Donovan’s artwork is somewhere between dreamy and definitive: a few of my rereads of this title was to just focus on the art and be mesmerized. There’s never a lack of Brown folks in the panels, and Donovan’s coloring enriched the pages and made some moments stand out more: moments of joy and moments of fear, equally. The biggest takeaway was the artistic decision to portray the spirits of the women still here in some form watching over and protecting the young Indigenous women present. A more recently deceased female family member of one of the girls sits at her bedside as she mourns–that same family member stands behind her as she admires a sculpture created as a memorial for the missing and murdered women in town.

The women, and the ancestors, are on the pages in the book in faint forms colored with the palest of blues. Some have NO DAPL t-shirts, and others have less modern forms of dress like the ones in full skirts that look to be more from perhaps the later 1800’s to early 1900’s era. The other forms present are the grey, creepy, eyeless creatures that tend to appear and mostly cling to non-Native men who approach the girls and women in this comic. They show up in most places the female spirits are, and my best guess is that they are spirits of past efforts of colonization and fear that refuse to be banished from this plane. It is a visually compelling and moving depiction by the artist to include, and I immediately had an idea of what both spirits and what they were supposed to represent.

I initially was worried about the length of this book as it’s not longer than sixty pages. I read A Girl Called Echo, Vol. 1 (Pemmican Wars) and while I really liked the story I felt that it was too short to fully fell immersed in it. (Thankfully, there is another volume to continue Echo’s adventures.) The creative team paced the narrative well enough where Surviving the City Vol. 1 ends on a satisfying note, and I didn’t feel cut off. As this book is for the demographic of younger audience in the grades seven to twelve, it’s a good length with a few pages of educational content like stats about murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit people, and some additional readings to look up.

Surviving the City is one book in The Debwe Series, and it is a book that I can’t recommend enough; first for representation reasons, and secondly for centering Indigenous girls and women in a narrative that doesn’t succumb to the trauma porn People of Color are so used to seeing in the media. While this book focuses on Native girls and women in Canada and British Columbia, it is important to note that Native women are some 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than any other ethnic group, and that is an international crisis of violence that affects Indigenous girls and women everywhere.

What I love most about Surviving the City is that it feels like a love letter from Indigenous women to Indigenous girls, letting them know that they are seen and that they are loved. Surviving the City is a promise that the fight is still ongoing, never ceasing to mourn those gone and to prevent more from going missing is heartfelt and true. While reading it, I kept seeing women come to the rescue of other women, the standout examples: the woman coming to the aid of teenage girl runaway getting her to safety and the older woman standing in as a grandmother, a spiritual leader, and later an activist. The cornerstones of many communities are women, and women are the protectors of other women.

Let the circle be unbroken.

Let women remain as protectors and guides and leaders.

And let the conversation about the murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people be one that we fight to keep alive and also one that brings justice and closure.

— NetGalley

A short but powerful graphic novel about the experience of two Indigenous Canadian girls that I'm really happy I got the chance to read.

— NetGalley

Let me begin by saying that this isn't a story for the faint of heart. The history of indigenous peoples in Canada is rife with violence and oppression. This short graphic novel deals with one aspect of it: murdered and missing women, girls, and two spirited peoples. ... Part of what makes this book so profound is the artwork. The girls are beautifully portrayed in bold colours. Translucent ghosts of all kinds of women populate the pages.
This is the first book in The Debwe Series. I am excitedly looking forward to what comes next.

— NetGalley

"Centering the strong hearts of Indigenous women and girls and shattering racist assumptions, Surviving the City is a beautiful, uncompromising honour song to those of us that not only survive the urban, but navigate through it with the courage of our Ancestors."  - Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, author of This Accident of Being Lost 


I'm smarter than I was 1/2 hour ago. Before I read this ARC of Surviving the City, I had no idea about the plight of Indigenous women and girls in Canada. This will be going in our middle school library upon release. In addition to a beautiful, important story, the illustrations of ancestors, spirits, and even evil highlight the importance of the culture and how in tune this population remains. There are many lessons to gain reading these 58 pages. I can't wait for students to learn them.

— NetGalley

Featured on the Weekend Morning Show: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/top-childrens-books-christmas-gifts-1.4948252

— CBC News

According to the RCMP, ten percent of women in Canada who have been missing for at least 30 days are Indigenous. Indigenous women are five times more likely to be murdered than non-Indigenous women. So, this graphic novel, about two Indigenous girls, who live in the city, is very sad, and very true. Surviving in the city is hard when you are a target. I love how the spirits of the dead hang around the Indigenous peoples, but the white people have an alien spirit that hangs around them. Very to the point. This is not an easy story to read. But it is also true that this is still happening, right now, and far too many girls and women have been lost to not make a point that we have to care for each other.

And the resource center, mentioned in the book Ka Ni Kanichihk Inc. is real (http://www.kanikanichihk.ca/), so this is also a good source for girls and women reading this to know there is a safe space for them. There is so much going on, that is background for this story, but anyone can read this, and know what is happening, and be aware. Highly recommended for school, libraries and personal libraries. Thanks to Netgalley and Highwater Press for making this book available for an honest review.

— NetGalley

Surviving the City is an interesting graphic novel that comes with a message. The story focuses around two friends, Dez and Miikwan, who are First Nations girls. They are in school together and the best of friends. Dez lives with her grandmother.

The two girls are inseparable. So, when Dez fails to show up for school, Miikwan is worried. Dez had been given some bad news – that her grandmother was getting sicker and that Dez might have to go live in a group home. Miikwan worries because she thinks that Dez could have disappeared, as have other indigenous women and girls, including her own mother. Many of them turn up murdered.

This is a book that addresses a real-life issue that indigenous women and girls face daily. There is an epidemic of missing women and girls and you see some indications of that in the book. Everywhere the girls go, there are people who have shadowy ghost figures following them, the evil spirits. People watch them, and you know that not everyone has good intentions toward them. The girls are not really safe anywhere, as is graphically portrayed with very well-done artwork. There are threats everywhere, even from people who they should be able to trust. This is the reality that they face daily. This novel brings home that message so well. It brings attention to a very real issue while presenting characters in a situation that anyone of their age might find themselves in.

The novel also shows bright spots. The center where the girls can go to connect with others of their culture. The people that join together to march in protest of all the missing women who have not been found. There are places the girls can go to feel safe and to be with like-minded people. That is a message that many young people should hear.

This novel would make a great addition to a classroom reading or social studies program. There are many opportunities for lessons and class discussions that center around the story in the book and the larger issues it represents. This could be an important book to show students this reality. The issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls is, sadly, not going away. We need to work on finding the missing ones. This book is great for raising awareness of this issue. There are other lessons here as well. The fact that Dez might be removed from her home, living with a blood relative, and placed in a group home, shows that government interference in the lives of indigenous people is still an ongoing issue. These are things that are not at the forefront of the knowledge or experience of the general public. If people learned of these things going on, maybe they could be changed. For those reasons, I think this, and books like it, are so important to get out there.

It is written in an easy-to-read graphic format. The illustrations are top-notch. The graphics contribute much to the storyline. I find graphic novels are an interesting art form. The words and illustrations work together to bring a story to life in ways that plain text cannot. This one was very well done and I recommend it highly, not only for its message, but for the excellent artwork as well.
 

— NetGalley

Tasha Spillett, who is Nehiyaw and Trinidadian, tells the story through the girls' dialogue and text messages – featuring Indigenous words and references to traditional practices – allowing readers to be continually immersed in their world.

Metis artist Natasha Donovan's full-colour illustrations stand out in this field of graphic novels, with pale-blue ghostly figures representing missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as well as darker, hollow-eyed male figures who symbolize the constant threats to women. In these haunting images, the girls' personal drama plays out within the larger struggle of Canada's Indigenous women.

— Quill & Quire

Tasha Spillett writes with the kind of raw voice that Indigenous girls deserve to hear. Surviving the City takes the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit, and she brings that to life in a story that doesn't just focus on MMIWG2S.

I think what I really admire about Surviving the City is that Spillett is able to tell the story of two girls, Miikwan (Anishinaabe) and Dez (Inninew), just being girls while living in a world that just can't handle Indigenous girls getting to enjoy their lives and their culture. Miikwan and Dez are living their lives, while also dealing with a sick grandmother, a missing mother, and the looming fear of not being allowed to live at home due to government interference. Miikwan and Dez are trying to do the things they love, while also having to deal with the racist misogyny that all Indigenous women have to face. 

Surviving the City is a painful read, but it's also incredibly uplifting and touching at times. I think this is why it struck me the way it did. I never felt like Miikwan and Dez were the vehicles for a story they were barely a part of. They were incredible characters who felt like the real people who deal with these issues, largely in part because the story isn't just about their issues. It is also about their love for each other and their families and their cultures.

The art here is absolutely lovely, and it did a lot to make this story feel more real to me. The background scenery is lovely, but I especially love the design of Miikwan and Dez.

I definitely recommend this one. The story highlights real issues that everyone should know about, without entirely being about those issues. This is evocative and touching. The extra information included at the end is vital for anyone looking for the stats that lead to the creation of stories like this one. I'll be watching out for more work from both Tasha Spillett and Natasha Donovan in the future.

— NetGalley

CBC Books' The Best Canadian comics of 2018 https://www.cbc.ca/books/the-best-canadian-comics-of-2018-1.4944651

— CBC Books

"This is a book to read slowly, reflect upon, and then read again."

— NetGalley

A startling, timely, and beautifully illustrated account of the plight of indigenous girls, women, and two-children in Canada. Not to be missed.

— NetGalley

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