A Child is a Piece of Paper

Fiction - Cultural
226 Pages
Reviewed on 11/12/2018
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Lesley Jones for Readers' Favorite

In A Child is a Piece of Paper by Lance Crossley, the year is 1960 in an Indian reserve in Ontario and six-year-old Wally’s (Wanisin) life is about to change forever. Wally and his elder sister, Mabel, are offered the opportunity to receive an education that will give them a better chance in life. Against their father's wishes, the children are sent to a Catholic residential school run by Father John Paxton. Once they arrive, they realize that the school is a harsh, deadly place, where only the strongest survive. Paxton and Sister Velma are determined to rid the children's malignant souls of their native roots and brutal punishments await those who disobey. Once Wally leaves the school, he carries the nightmares of his time in Dresden Lake School with him. He tries to become a member of society, but his past experiences cast a shadow over his marriage and as a father. He longs to put his mental ghosts to rest and to do this he must return to the place where it all began; Dresden Lake School.

The story line of A Child is a Piece of Paper by Lance Crossley will stay with you long after you have finished reading the last page. I was absolutely hooked by Wally’s story. The characters are diverse and vivid, from feisty Mabel to witty and fearless Gordon. Wally was an amazing character. I was really rooting for him to find peace in his life. I have to say it has been a while since I have come across such vile antagonists as Father Paxton and Sister Velma; they were absolutely abhorrent. The whole story is engaging, and the way the native Indians were treated and their natural habitat destroyed will definitely make the reader incensed. The author has created the most outstanding story of survival in a world that just doesn't seem to care. I feel I have definitely been on an emotional rollercoaster reading this book. Without giving any spoilers away, the ending had me in tears. An exceptional book by a very talented author.

Jack Magnus

A Child is a Piece of Paper is an historical/cultural fiction novel written by Lance Crossley. Mitena and Wanisin lived an idyllic life with their mother and father in the isolated village of Fort Hope, Ontario in the Eabametoong reserve. Their parents taught them fishing, hunting and trapping, and ensuring they had an education. It was 1960, and the residents were even now adjusting to the new bungalows that had been installed, though some were still wary of the modern advances. Wanisin, his sister and mother had been ice-fishing when they heard the distant thumping sound of a helicopter. Nimaamaa was sure they’d simply pass overhead and continue on their way, but the helicopter did land close by the shoreline and the family’s hut. The pilot remained by his copter, but two men disembarked and walked over to where the family stood watching them.

A Child is a Piece of Paper is a stark and moving account of a brother and sister’s experiences at the hands of a corrupt and cruel priest and a sadistic nun in one of the infamous Indian Schools. While most of these stories focus on the abuses that occurred in schools in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this one takes place in the latter part of the 20th century, beginning in 1960, when Wanisin is only six years old. While stories about the Magdalen Laundries and other religiously run schools in the British Isles, where abuse and neglect were sanctioned and indeed routine, are relatively well-documented, the voices of children, particularly Native American children, who were surrendered or forced into the care of religious schools in the US and Canada during this time period, are still for the most part unheard. Many of those students who actually survived their terms in the schools are going to their graves with those memories still intact, their wounds still unhealed.

My heart ached for Wanisin and his sister as they lost everything, every bit of warmth and love, as Father Paxton and Sister Velma replaced their home lives with one filled with fear, pain and privation. Having had the dubious honor of going to a parochial school in the States as a small child, I found myself reliving that extreme disorientation, the fear that existed in those hallways, those angry and terrifying women in their black robes who didn’t even wait one day before beginning the corporal punishment they seemed to enjoy inflicting. Remembering how difficult a transition that was, I can’t begin to imagine how much harder an experience it was for First Nation children. Reading A Child is a Piece of Paper was a momentous and moving experience, one that will remain with me for some time. It’s most highly recommended.

Viga Boland

Never have I read a book as haunting as A Child is a Piece of Paper by Lance Crossley. The title alone is enough to pique reader curiosity…unless readers are totally insensitive…but the content, the plot, and especially the characters of Wanisin, his older sister Mitena, their parents and those who turned their happy worlds upside down are unforgettable. This remarkable story which focuses on Canada's treatment of its indigenous peoples is fiction based on fact, and the facts are heartbreaking. In the 1960s, those in power decided that Indian children in Canada’s cold north needed religion and education such as they could never get from their own people. Under the threat of imprisonment, these Indian parents, their hearts breaking, signed over the care of their children to residential schools. What these children got until the age of 18 was white man’s education and religion at the hands of religious clergy. What too many of these children like Wanisin actually ended up with was a lifetime of mental, spiritual and physical pain.

Crossley’s depiction of what Wanisin, his sister, and their classmates endured is riveting, especially after he treats us to the beauty and happiness these two children felt before they were whisked away from their homes. Given the strong connection the indigenous peoples feel with nature and their environment, the haunting atmosphere of A Child is a Piece of Paper is even more pronounced. Nature’s hold on the children is present throughout the story, almost becoming yet another character in this novel. As a result, it’s impossible not to be deeply moved, not to feel the tremendous loss Wanisin and all the children experience in the confinement of the residential schools. The horrible food, the beatings they endure for the smallest infractions, and the sexual abuse to which some are subjected by those who are supposed to be the embodiment of godliness is mind-blowing. Letters home never reached parents. Some children tried to escape and ended up dead. And later, as adults, many like Wanisin found their only solace in the bottle, adding to the personal destruction they had already experienced.

While A Child is a Piece of Paper is specific to a shameful part of Canada’s history, a history for which the current government is trying to make financial amends, it is clear after reading this novel that no amount of monetary compensation can make up for what happened to the likes of Wanisin. Unfortunately, Canada is not alone is this treatment of indigenous people. Australia’s treatment of the aborigines, the USA and Britain’s history with slavery, and too many countries on this earth have similar, equally shameful pasts and in, some cases, shameful presents. Anyone, anywhere who cares about the well-being and futures of the children of the world should read A Child is a Piece of Paper. It is only through books like this and writers like Lance Crossley that we can truly understand the concept of inhumanity. Readers will be shocked, torn, and close to tears as they read this novel, and possibly, like me, haunted by the fact that too many children will forever be little more than a piece of paper.