Book Review: Tilly

61NYFDeunNLTilly: A Story of Hope and Resilience is the winner in CODE’s (Canadian Organization for Development through Education) 2014 Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature. The book, written by Cree, Lakota, and Scottish author Monique Gray Smith is part memoir and part healing guide.

Monique Gray Smith received the award on September 27th at the Winnipeg Gala. This creative non-fiction book tells the story of a young Indigenous woman coming of age in Canada in the 1980s. With compassion, insight and humour, Gray Smith illuminates the 20th-century history of Canada’s First Peoples – forced displacement, residential schools, tuberculosis hospitals, the Sixties Scoop.

In a spirit of hope, this unique story captures the irrepressible resilience of Tilly, and of Indigenous peoples everywhere. Tilly has always known she’s part Lakota on her dad’s side. She’s grown up with the traditional teachings of her grandma, relishing the life lessons of her beloved mentor.

But it isn’t until an angry man shouts something on the street that Tilly realizes her mom is Aboriginal, too – a Cree woman taken from her own parents as a baby. Tilly feels her mother’s pain deeply. She’s always had trouble fitting in at school, and when her grandma dies unexpectedly, her anchor is gone.

Then Abby, a grade seven classmate, invites her home for lunch and offers her “something special” to drink. Nothing has prepared Tilly for the tingling in her legs, the buzz in her head and the awesome feeling that she can do anything. From then on, partying seems to offer an escape from her insecurities.

But after one dangerously drunken evening, Tilly knows she has to change. Summoning her courage, she begins the long journey to finding pride in herself and her heritage. Just when she needs it most, a mysterious stranger offers some wise counsel: “Never question who you are or who your people are. It’s in your eyes. I know it’s in your heart.” This book contains a helpful glossary of terms and several discussion questions.

Monique Gray Smith received the first prize of $12,000 for Tilly, a Story of Hope and Resilience (published by Sono Nis Press), Thomas King won the second prize of $8,000 for The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (published by Doubleday Canada), while the third prize of $5,000 went to Bev Sellars for They Called Me Number One (published by Talonbooks). The winners were selected by a jury composed of Canadian writers and educators administered by the Canada Council for the Arts.

The Award’s book purchase and distribution program will ensure that a minimum of 2,500 copies of each of the three winning titles will be delivered to First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth across Canada through community libraries, schools, Friendship Centres and summer literacy camps. is the official distributor of the winning books. Order them on our website

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