Allison's Book Bag

Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Posted on: August 7, 2014

Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton is an adaptation of A Stranger at Home, which depicts the struggles which Olemaun faces as she attempts to rediscover her place within her Inuit community and her family after being apart from them for two years. Because I have read both books, as I review Not My Girl, I will also be comparing and contrasting the two versions.

I’ll start with what I liked about Not My Girl. It contains a couple of particularly touching subplots. The first involves dogs. Neither those belonging to the community or to the family recognize her scent. When Olemaun attempts to reconnect with the dogs, she is greeted with snarls and snaps. Her father advises that she needs to give them time. One day, Olemaun snatches up a puppy from the family’s pack of dogs and takes him with her on a walk to see a friend. When she doesn’t get to see her friend, Olemaun spends the day playing with the puppy at the beach, forgetting about the fact the puppy is still of the age that it needs milk from its mother. The second involves Christmas. Her brother receives a train and her sister a porcelain doll. When Olemaun’s parents ignore her wish for similar toys, she breaks down and cries. She tried so hard to belong but obviously failed. Or so she believes.

Not My Girl also contains vividly descriptive language and would serve as an excellent mentor text. Consider this simile: “It was as though the wings of one thousand birds soared in my heart.” It’s followed up with this metaphor: “The birds in my heart fell to the sky.” Fenton carries the bird image further: “I wondered what kind of bird I had become. I no longer felt like I belonged to this flock.” Later, readers are treated to this description of the northern lights: “…. where the iridescent fronds of the northern lights danced down from the sky.” Again, Fenton extends the image to portray how Olemaun feels. “Grandmother once told me that if I whistled to them, their tendrils would reach down and snatch me away. I whistled until my lips hurt, but they ignored me.”

Next, I’ll turn to what I didn’t like about Not My Girl. Even more so than her first attempt at a picture book, I feel as if Fenton merely abbreviated the original story instead of creating a new one to fit its unique format and audience. For me, the introduction doesn’t quite hit the mark. It feels rushed, summative, and even leaves out important facts. I know that Olemaun has been to an outsiders’ school, where she learned to speak English and other academic skills, and that her mother views her as a stranger. If not for having read Fenton’s earlier books, however, I wouldn’t know what Olemaun had been to a white man’s school, why that was problematic for her, or how horrific that experience had been. For readers new to Fenton’s books, Not My Girl may not provide enough context for them to fully appreciate it.

My second complaint is that upon first read, Not My Girl feels episodic and not unified. Rereading it, I finally comprehended that Fenton choose to emphasis Olemaun’s relationship with the local dogs. Both her estrangement from and acceptance by the dogs parallels the reaction of the community and her family to Olemaun. In A Stranger at Home, a lot more details are included such as the shyness displayed by her siblings when Olemaun attempts to play with them, the family’s decision not to return to Banks Island, and her mother’s recognition that the white man’s ways are changing their culture despite the family’s protest. Fenton has eliminated all of those, focusing mainly on the dogs, which will I realize appeal to younger readers. However, Fenton’s story still feels overwhelming to me as an adult, which means I suspect young readers will need an adult to guide them through it.

Although Not My Girl may prove difficult for its audience without support, both of Fenton’s picture books stood out to me as suitable mentor texts. They are rich in language and beautifully illustrated. Each would make an excellent addition to schools, while Fenton’s chapter books could be enjoyed by young readers themselves.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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