Strangers by David Robertson is one of our school’s considerations for the grade nine de-streamed classroom. These are my thoughts on whether or not we should include this book in our book club selection. To learn more about our Inclusive Classroom Library Project, please click here.
A Brief Plot Outline
A troubled teen, Cole Harper, receives an unusual phone call from his friend, convincing Cole to return to the Wounded Sky Reserve. Shortly after coming back, some people get murdered while others fall ill with a mysterious illness.
Cole struggles with his past and searches for his purpose in life. His psychological struggles are echoed in the physical realm: he discovers that he has new powers. He is stronger, sees a ghost, and can communicate with the Trickster, Coyote (who also appears to others as a guy named Choch).
We soon discover that Cole and Wounded Sky’s troubled past are connected to a medical experiment. Only Cole’s blood can save the residents of the reservation.
There are many sub-plots happening in this novel. Robertson attempts to thread together Indigenous tradition with superhero and thriller tropes. We are left with many unanswered questions at the end of the story. Strangers is book one in a trilogy, so that should be expected; however, we are only considering the first book. As a result, the story feels incomplete.
The best thing going for the novel is the main character, Cole Harper. While he doesn’t drive the story forward, he seems like many other kids his age. I think this run-of-the-mill kid trying to find his place in life will appeal to many grade nine students.
Who Will Like This?
Given the superhero and thriller elements, I think this one appeals to the boys. Getting through the story will take a little more focus and probably a slightly higher reading level than other books we’ve chosen to evaluate. On the plus side, there isn’t much background knowledge on Indigenous culture needed to get through this book, which will be helpful for some students.
I’m not convinced that the story holds enough intrigue to draw the reader into the last third of the book, where the story gets interesting. Also, I found the sudden introduction of an evil medical company weird.
The biggest problem is that this is part of a trilogy, and the ending feels unfinished. That is the biggest drawback to using this book as a book club book.
I think we’re going to pass on this one. I’ve read many other Indigenous novels that would work better. The book is interesting enough if you’re looking for a trilogy that straddles Indigenous themes with superhero elements, but for a grade nine book club book, this isn’t the best option for us.