Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway 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
The story primarily focuses on Champion and Ooneemeetoo Okimasis. They are sent to a residential school and given the Christian names Jeremiah and Gabriel, respectively.
During their time at the residential school, they both suffered abuse. Jeremiah has buried his trauma, while Gabriel recalls specific incidents whenever he thinks about sex. A
As the story progresses, Jeremiah, an incredible piano prodigy, suffers from feelings he has repressed. He hates Indigenous people, including himself. When he wins the prestigious Crookshank Memorial Competition (for playing the piano), he doesn’t seem to care and decides to give up music. Instead, he becomes a social worker for Indigenous people. He equates the job with being a taxi driver to the native friendship center. Jeremiah also notes the alarming number of Indigenous women abused and murdered in Winnipeg.
By this time, his brother, Gabriel, has left Winnipeg to become a famous dancer. We get the sense that Gabriel is generally more successful and accepting of his Indigenous heritage, but there are certainly problems with Gabriel’s well-being.
By the end, there is some healing happening between the brothers, the rest of the family, and Jeremiah’s perception of Indigenous people. Parts of Gabriel’s life are revealed, and we learn that he has become a playboy. As a result, he had HIV, which resulted in his death.
This novel is a stunning commentary on the lifelong impact that residential schools have on individuals, families, and communities. Since the story mostly takes place in the 1970s and 1980s, we see the evolution of social issues as they pertain to Indigenous people. Also, Gabriel is a gay native man. His brother all but disowns him because of this fact.
When it comes to Indigenous issues, particularly within the context of residential schools, this is my favorite book.
Who Will Like This?
Strong readers with (at least) half a heart will like this book. Unfortunately, I think that the content requires an older audience.
There is some sexual content, swearing, and violence. While rape scenes are not explicit, it is evident that they happen throughout the novel. This could be very triggering for students.
I think that the literary nature of the writing will make this difficult for many readers to follow.
I do not recommend this book for the grande nine book club classroom. Instead, I will request that this book be placed in our grade eleven university-level reading selection. Students should read this book, but not at the grade nine level.