Motorcycles and Sweetgrass by Drew Hayden Taylor 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 Very Brief Plot Outline
Recently widowed, Maggie struggles with her responsibilities. She’s the chief of Otter Lake while raising a teenager, Virgil. Maggie and Virgil are dealing with the death of Maggie’s mother, Lilian, who clung to the old-fashion way of life.
Soon after Lilian’s death, a mysterious white man named John comes to the reserve on his Indian Chief motorcycle. He sweeps Maggie off of her feet. Virgil is suspicious of John and convinces his odd, reclusive Uncle Wayne to help him uncover John’s story. The raccoons want to help too!
Motorcycles and Sweetgrass is a fun, fast-paced read. John is a unique take on the Nanbush / trickster figure. Taylor combines elements of traditional Indigenous belief with contemporary writing styles to deliver a great reading experience.
Taylor explores Indigenous struggles within the family, community, and the larger society. While the novel seems light-hearted, the issues are quite serious.
Who Will Like This?
Students who enjoy humor will like the book. They should be able to identify with Virgil. Virgil comes across as a typical teen with everyday problems and concerns. He is stuck in an unusual situation with John.
While this isn’t a complex novel, struggling readers will probably have difficulty with some of the language. Most students will be able to navigate the issues and references without much trouble, but there will be exceptions.
I think that this is a good choice for our Indigenous selection. It balances some of the other novels because it is a selection that is funny without sacrificing meaning.