Funeral Songs for Dying Girls

Tundra. Apr. 2023. 280p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780735265639.
Gr 8 Up–A haunting coming-of-age novel centering Indigenous girls struggling with heartbreak, disappointment, and grief. Almost-16-year-old Winifred (Métis and white) has grown up in the apartment above the crematorium, living with her father, who has never recovered from his wife’s death, which happened when Winifred was born. With the crematorium in danger of closing, the teen hatches a plan with her con artist cousin to convince the town that there’s a ghost in the cemetery, hoping that the proceeds from a ghost tour would keep them from leaving the only place she’s ever known, the same place where her mother’s ashes are buried. However, Winifred meets the real ghost of another Indigenous girl, Phil, who died decades ago in the ravine nearby. The two girls become friends as Phil slowly recounts her life, including how she died. Soon, the young women become more than friends, but misunderstandings and impossibilities get in their way. Dimaline’s prose is magnetic, and her storytelling skills are on full display. Readers will be as entranced by Phil’s tale as Winifred, hoping that her story doesn’t end in tragedy while already knowing the ending. The complex characters are fully developed, and though the conflicts aren’t resolved neatly, the book’s conclusion comes together realistically. This contemporary novel with hints of a magical realism recalls the missing and murdered Indigenous women of North America, a very real and current epidemic of violence. It explores drug abuse, sexual assault, and racism, but also identity and first love. Both girls are queer.
VERDICT A tough, heartrending ghost story that will seep into readers’ bones and never let them go.

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