Title: The Night Wanderer
Authors: Drew Hayden Taylor (Author), Alison Kooistra (Adaptor), Mike Wyatt (Illustrator)
Star Rating: * * * *
Genre: Graphic Novel, Indigenous Narrative, Paranormal
NOTE: Review copy obtained via NetGalley
Pierre L’Errant is an Anishinabe man who has been away from home for centuries. When the desire to come back becomes too much to bear, he flies to Otter Lake to deal with his inner demons. However, when he arrives, he finds himself embroiled in the problems of the family that he is staying with. Tiffany, the teenager of the house, is struggling. Her parents are separated, her boyfriend isn’t treating her well, her grades are dropping at school, and her dad refuses to understand her difficulties. By intervening, Pierre not only helps Tiffany start to sort through her issues, but he comes to a conclusion about his own struggles.
The Night Wanderer is a great story for young adults from an Aboriginal author who fills the narrative with Indigenous characters and themes, issues that are solely lacking in literature, particularly in the young adult genre. It’s a great coming-of-age tale for teens. Tiffany is struggling with her boyfriend, her grades are slipping, her parents are divorced, and she just can’t handle everything that is happening to her. These are all very realistic problems facing youths, but the narrative also lets readers explore Indigenous culture, and engages in questions about racism. Consequently, I think this book would be a fabulous addition to school curriculums or library reading programs. The story even has a paranormal hook to draw readers in.
The vampire angle of this story is also interesting and unique. Pierre was an Anishinabe man who left his community and travelled to Europe several hundred years ago. However, his new life was not as fantastic and enlightened as he thought it would be, and he soon fell ill. Just as he was about to die, he was visited by a strange man who turned him into a vampire. For three hundred years, he stalked Europe, feeling as if he no longer deserved to go home. His return to Otter Lake is a story about his struggle to reconcile his monstrous being with his cultural values and beliefs. Unlike many current vampire stories, Pierre is not portrayed as a sexy anti-hero who just needs the love of a good woman. Instead, Pierre gives himself to the sun when he realises that if he wants to embrace the good that he was taught to aspire to, he can’t continue being a monster. This is certainly not the way most YA vampire novels have been ending, and I thought this different conclusion was powerful and thought-provoking.
Perhaps the most glaring issue that readers may take issue with is the art. The illustrations in The Night Wanderer are not bad. In fact, the art is better than a lot of what I see in current DC books at the moment. However, it is a very different style with distinctive weaknesses. Wyatt is fond of thick line art, and his work is not always very fluid. There are some pages where the action is not quite as believable because of the stiffness of the illustrations, but overall, I thought the art showed a good command over anatomy, expression, and background. In fact, the illustration style grew on me as I read the book, and the thickness to the lines reminded me of some styles of Indigenous art. While I will definitely admit that Wyatt is not yet a master at his craft, I enjoyed this different style, and I did not find the flaws to be so distracting that I could not enjoy the book.
One of my personal complaints was I thought the story would have been stronger if it was longer. Pierre’s emotional journey would have been more effecting had readers gotten to explore his emotions and why he was feeling them. Extending the narrative may also have helped with the topic I discuss below.
The last issue I want to touch on is not “bad” at all, but readers may find it challenging to engage with the book if they lack a particularly lens for understanding. The Night Wanderer is best read with some knowledge of Indigenous perspectives, or some the deeper themes of the narrative may be difficult to fully comprehend. For example, in other reviews online, I noticed that some people thought that the coming-of-age part of the story was overdone, and that Tiffany was just being an insufferable teenager who needed to get over herself. However, Tiffany isn’t just a normal North American teen. She’s a First Nations youth living on a small reserve in Canada. Her boyfriend wasn’t just being a generic, thoughtless teenage boy; he was engaging in some very hurtful racist behaviour. Many of Tiffany’s fears and insecurities were grounded in the fact that she felt excluded and discriminated against when she was among the non-Indigenous teenagers from her area. While readers never see her being called derogatory terms, the narrative hints at quieter types of oppression, much of which are probably largely unconsciousness. Additionally, Pierre’s actions are also largely motivated by his Indigenous identity, and the story’s power comes from the cultural lessons that influence his choices. Consequently, for those who really want to get the most out of this book, you have to be ready to think about the story from a different perspective (and doing so makes the book that much stronger!).
The Night Wanderer is an absolutely fantastic graphic novel that I would definitely recommend to readers interested in a unique take on vampires and teenagers. It is not on the level of some of the graphic novel greats that I have featured on this blog, but as an independent piece produced by individuals who are not big names in the literary and comic worlds, I thought this was a very strong volume. It also represents a very important addition of Indigenous perspectives in a genre that is woefully lacking in these voices. I liked this book enough that even though I received a copy on NetGalley, I will be seeking out a hardcopy for my personal collection.