April 1, 2016

Review: Black Apple by Joan Crate


Review:  Black Apple by Joan Crate

A dramatic and lyrical coming-of-age novel about a young Blackfoot girl who grows up in the residential school system on the Canadian prairies.

Torn from her home and delivered to St. Mark’s Residential School for Girls by government decree, young Rose Marie finds herself in an alien universe where nothing of her previous life is tolerated, not even her Blackfoot name. For she has entered into the world of the Sisters of Brotherly Love, an order of nuns dedicated to saving the Indigenous children from damnation. Life under the sharp eye of Mother Grace, the Mother General, becomes an endless series of torments, from daily recitations and obligations to chronic sickness and inedible food. And then there are the beatings. All the feisty Rose Marie wants to do is escape from St. Mark’s. How her imagination soars as she dreams about her lost family on the Reserve, finding in her visions a healing spirit that touches her heart. But all too soon she starts to see other shapes in her dreams as well, shapes that warn her of unspoken dangers and mysteries that threaten to engulf her. And she has seen the rows of plain wooden crosses behind the school, reminding her that many students have never left here alive.

Set during the Second World War and the 1950s, Black Apple is an unforgettable, vividly rendered novel about two very different women whose worlds collide: an irrepressible young Blackfoot girl whose spirit cannot be destroyed, and an aging yet powerful nun who increasingly doubts the value of her life. It captures brilliantly the strange mix of cruelty and compassion in the residential schools, where young children are forbidden to speak their own languages and given Christian names. As Rose Marie matures, she finds increasingly that she knows only the life of the nuns, with its piety, hard work and self-denial. Why is it, then, that she is haunted by secret visions—of past crimes in the school that terrify her, of her dead mother, of the Indigenous life on the plains that has long vanished? Even the kind-hearted Sister Cilla is unable to calm her fears. And then, there is a miracle, or so Mother Grace says. Now Rose is thrust back into the outside world with only her wits to save her.

With a poet’s eye, Joan Crate creates brilliantly the many shadings of this heartbreaking novel, rendering perfectly the inner voices of Rose Marie and Mother Grace, and exploring the larger themes of belief and belonging, of faith and forgiveness.

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Black Apple by Joan Crate
Published by: Simon & Schuster  on March 1, 2016


This title was provided to us by the Publisher/Author. We were in no way compensated for our review(s).

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MaryAnn-2015Black Apple by Joan Crate gives the reader a little glimpse of what life was like for the children who were forced by the Canadian Government to go to Residential Schools run by the Catholic Church.

If you are not aware of this Canadian tragedy, I would strongly encourage you to check it out. Not only is it a shameful Canadian past, but it still affects many aboriginal Canadian’s today. The suffering that they had to endure is one that I just cannot fathom.

My hope with Black Apple by Joan Crate was to get a first hand look through the eyes of Sinopaki, who was forced to change her name to Rose Marie, at what she had to go through. Luckily for Sinopaki, her life is not as horrific as those mentioned around her or the boys who attended the boy school. Luckily for Sinopaki, the head mistress of the school, Mother Grace, has taken a strong interest in her and has decided to path her way to a life as a sister.

What author, Joan Crate, does a great job of is weaving terrible details of what occurs to some of the other children into Sinopaki’s story. But she also includes the woes and conflicts within the sisters and the vows that they had taken, and the horrible truths that involve a priest.

Black Apple by Joan Crate follows the story of Sinopaki right from the time she is ripped away from her family and forced to change everything she has ever know, up to when Sinopaki becomes a young lady and is able to live HER life. We watch as she struggles with the beliefs that had been forced upon her, and her draw to a regular life.

The way in which Joan Crate tells the story, readers will be quickly drawn into a story filled with pain and sadness. My heart ached for each and everyone of these kids and my heart broke for the families that were allowed only a few precious moments with their children.

If you are at all curious about what like in a Residential School was like, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Black Apple by Joan Crate. It’s a story that has to be told and one that people should be aware of, regardless if you are a Canadian or not.


About Joan Crate

Joan Crate was born in Yellowknife, North­west Territories, and was brought up with pride in her Indigenous heritage.

She taught literature and creative writing at Red Deer College, Alberta, for over 20 years. Her first book of poetry, Pale as Real Ladies: Poems for Pauline Johnson, has become a classic.

Her first novel, Breathing Water, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Award (Canada) and the Books in Canada First Novel Award in 1989.

She is a recipient of the Bliss Carman Award for Poetry and her last book of poetry, SubUrban Legends, was awarded Book of the Year by the Writers’ Guild of Alberta.

Crate lives with her family in Calgary.


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