The Sentence, by Louise Erdrich

This powerful, engrossing, funny, sad, enraging novel tells the story of Tookie, an Indigenous woman who is rebuilding her life after several years of incarceration. Tookie is brilliant, stubborn, and an absolutely memorable first-person narrator. She is married to Pollux, an old friend who’s also the officer who arrested her. She works at an Indigenous-focused bookstore that is very closely modelled on the bookstore Louise Erdrich actually owns in real life (and the store’s owner, “Louise,” is a minor character in this novel). Oh, and the bookstore — at least, when Tookie is in it — is being haunted by the ghost of a former customer, a white woman who was fascinated (in a fairly pushy way) with Indigenous culture. So, along with everything else, it’s a ghost story.

If that (and just the fact that it’s written by Louise Erdrich) is not enough to hook you, there’s a whole other layer that makes this book fascinating. Except for the opening, which gives us the backstory on Tookie’s crime and punishment, the novel takes place between November 2019 and November 2020, so the lives of the characters are impacted first by the Covid-19 pandemic, then by the protests following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, where the story is set. These contemporary events don’t feel gimmicky: they feel like the heart of a story that is about resilience, persistence, and love in the face of illness, racism, and everything else the world throws at these characters. This was a fascinating and beautiful book to read.

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