Book 1 - The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf
Book 2 - The Disappearance of Ember Crow
Book 3 - The Foretelling of Georgie Spider
Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
The Tribe Series is a post-apocalyptic tale of love, friendship, and the depths of our barest humanity, for better and for worse. Its central character is Ashala Wolf, a young Australian girl with special abilities who has become the de facto leader of a Tribe of other children with similar abilities. The Tribe lives together in a forest they refer to as the Firstwood. People with abilities have been denigrated and segregated by the government via a law called the "Citizenship Accords", and Ashala dreams of a world where she and those she loves can live with the greater population as one and in peace. Ashala's best friends, Ember Crow and Georgie Spider, share the starring roles in this trilogy. It turns out Ember is older than the apocalypse (and is actually an Artificial Intelligence being of sorts - I know, Wild!) and Georgie can see possible futures as her ability, which makes her both invaluable and squarely outside the traditional realm of existence. Each girl finds love in the story, and most are lucky enough to survive the series with that love intact. The Tribe is confronted with a variety of villains, both organically human and otherwise, and in the end, it is only through their collective protection of Ashala and her unique ability to make connections that they are able to triumph.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here
Ok. So I know I didn't really get into the weeds with that spoiler, but this series was really good, and I didn't want to give too much away in case any of my devoted readers want to explore this world for themselves. It's definitely written for a YA audience, but its messages are quite deep and its central tenets are breathtakingly beautiful.
I wanted to post this today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. day, because it seemed so aligned with this book's message and my feelings after reading it.
I don't always read the text outside of the work itself (Author's Notes, blurbs, etc.) but for this series, I did. I thought this was a perfect description of the work:
"The Tribe series is a work of Indigenous futurism, a form of storytelling in which Indigenous authors use our cultures, knowledge, and experiences to confront colonial stereotypes and imagine Indigenous futures."Ashala Wolf's character is deeply tied to the natural realm and the spirits of old, and the author, Ambelin Kwaymullina, is an Indigenous Australian from the Palyku tribe. My only complaint with the work was that I knew she was using the futuristic setting and the 'abilities' piece as an allegory, but I couldn't quite see all the connections. After the first book, I read the author's note, and then I did the same for the second two books, and the allegory became quite clear.
The "Citizenship Accords" are modeled after the Western Australian Natives (Citizenship Rights) Act of 1944, legislation that applied to Aboriginal people in Australia and wasn't repealed until 1971.
- In the books, those with abilities have to submit themselves to the government, and unless they are granted a formal 'exemption' because their ability is deemed harmless, they must allow themselves to be imprisoned so they don't pose a danger to society.
- From the author's note: "In the actual legislation, restrictions were placed on Aboriginal Australians, including being unable to marry without the government's permission and not being allowed to move around the state. It was easy to lose citizenship by associating with Aboriginal friends or relatives who did not have citizenship." Aboriginals apparently called these citizenship rights 'dog licenses or dog tags' - "a license to be Australian in the land that Aboriginal people had occupied for more than sixty thousand years."
The Act to Encourage the Gradual Civilization of Indian Tribes in this Province, and to Amend the Laws Relating to Indians (commonly known as the Gradual Civilization Act) - passed in Canada in 1857
"Required the "enfranchisement" of any recognized male Indian over the age of 21 "able to speak, read and write either English or the French language readily and well, and is sufficiently advanced in the elementary branches of education and is of good moral character and free from debt." An "enfranchised" Indian would no longer retain the "legal rights and habilities of Indians" and would "no longer be deemed an Indian" but a regular British subject, able to vote. Such enfranchisement was mandatory, but any male Indian could be voluntarily enfranchised despite an inability to read or write, or a lack of school education, so long as he spoke English or French, and was found to be "of sober and industrious habits, free from debt and sufficiently intelligent to be capable of managing his own affairs."Voluntary enfranchisement, however, required a three-year probation term before it would come into legal effect.
Enfranchisement required that Indians choose a last name (to be approved by appointed commissioners) by which they would become legally known. The wife and descendants of an enfranchised Indian would also be enfranchised, and would no longer be considered members of the former tribe, unless they were to regain Indian status through another marriage."
US Federal Native American Legislation (this is a link, FYI)
We were, and still are, in many ways, the worst offenders here. While some of this legislation was designed to support Indigenous folks, it's not hard to do a little digging to see that much of it had some pretty deleterious consequences:
Here's some vocab from the list of laws that might give you a hint about the track we took:
Poignant parallels and portentous prognostication
While the randomness of my ordering of books for this list may seem arbitrary, if not meaningless, to many, I am consistently struck by the lines of connection that appear so seamlessly between works separated by decades and distance. Take, for instance, this line:
Ember, to Ash
"This is what you do best. It's just like the Tribe. People come to the Firstwood all hurt and scared and angry at the world, but the only thing you see is the good in them, the greatest version of themselves that they could be. And somehow, most of them grow and change until they start becoming that person."
The next book on my list is Anne Frank, and this is perhaps her most famous quote:
"In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."
Georgie, to Ash: "Ash, you feel things deeply - all the way to your bones." I loved this line, because I think it accurately describes the way I feel things. I listened to the BBC News report on NPR the other day, and I was completely overwhelmed by the time I got to my destination. Between the mudslides in California, the civil war in Yemen, and the continuing conflict in Syria, I felt bereft and broken. I'm sure that it's not uncommon to be saddened by news reports, but I do wonder if others have the same intensity of emotion on hearing such things.
So I only had one other complaint (really more of an agree-to-disagree moment) in these books, and it happened when someone phonetically spelled out the pronunciation of the main character's name as "A-shay-la" and I thought, oh NO I thought it was "A-Shah-la". Obviously as the author you get to choose how your characters' names are pronounced, and for all I know, this name could have depth I am unaware of, but I secretly kept calling her A-shah-la in my head. ;)
I liked that each of the three main ladies got a thoughtful and kind partner, but I was a little disappointed in how traditional and (to be honest) a little trite, these romances were. Each girl was a force to be reckoned with, but then also later someone who shined best when supported by this strong man, and who never wanted to be apart from him. I guess I just felt like they were a little young to be all coupled up, and I liked them as individuals and ladies, too.
I loved reading about Kwaymullina's thought process in crafting the book, and her inspirations:
"For me, the best storytellers I know are Aboriginal Elders. So in writing about the the Tribe, I thought about the way the Elders draw you into a tale that is always more than it first appears. I thought, too, about the generations of Palyku women who have gone before me, who walked red earth and told the ancient tales of my people beneath the glittering stars of a desert night."
"Advances in technology could never compensate for failures in empathy."Referent/Reverberation
As with many books that deal with the taking of human life, this series was transparent about the challenges of battle. This line from Ashala:
"So if you're fighting for your life, or someone else's life, then you do whatever you have to. Doesn't mean you have to like it. Doesn't mean you won't feel bad about it afterward. But we fight back."
Reminded me of this interior monologue of Roberto's in For Whom the Bell Tolls:
"Don't you know it is wrong to kill? Yes. But you do it? Yes. And you still believe absolutely that your cause is right? Yes.
But you mustn't believe in killing. You must do it as a necessity but you must not believe in it. Because if you are not absolutely straight in your head you have no right to do the things you do for all of them are crimes and no man has a right to take another man's life unless it is to prevent something worse happening to other people."Ents and Ent-wives
I didn't really touch on them in the spoiler, but saurs are a central force in this series; they're essentially dinosaurs, but they also have telepathic abilities. One of my favorite lines in the book was this line, spoken by Connor, Ashala's boyfriend, to her:
- "We are not saur. We are trees." For some reason it reminded me of the Ents in The Lord of the Rings and the ongoing search for the Entwives, in both its depth and its spirituality.
When Ashala is near death (which happens more often than the average person), the end for her smells like eucalyptus, which is fitting, since the Firstwood is full of them, and Ashala feels that this is her origin point. I'm not sure what the end would smell like for me. Lilacs, maybe? Or roses? What would it smell like for you?
Mr. Snuffles and Starbeauty
Two of my favorite characters were animals, and loosely termed as pets. One was a pug named 'Mr. Snuffles', the other was an old spirit being named Starbeauty, who another character thought was his pet. She thought of him as her pet. One of my favorite lines, from Starbeauty to a human:
- "Explanations are not of cat." lolz.
waratah - an Australian-endemic genus of five species of large shrubs or small trees, native to the southeastern parts of Australia (New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania). (pictured left)
ylang-ylang - an aromatic tree native to the Philippines, having fragrant yellow drooping flowers that yield a volatile oil used in perfumery (pictured right)
tuarts - eucalyptus trees, Eucalyptus gomphocephala, of Australia, yielding very durable light-coloured timber (pictured bottom left)
gungurru - Eucalyptus caesia, commonly known as caesia, gungurru or silver princess, endemic to Western Australia. The name "silver" refers to the white powder that covers the branches, flower buds and fruit. "Gungurru" comes from the name used by the indigenous Noongar people. pictured bottom right
Lines I liked:
- "In such a world, the fact that we humans may not always understand the voices of other beings - the cry of Crow, the murmurings of Rain or Wind, or the slow rumble of Rock - does not mean those voices do not exist."
- "The Tribe had moved out of the caves about a week ago, more than willing to exchange the cold nights and mornings of early spring for open sky above our heads and the lemony scent of the tuarts in bloom."
"What is it to be human? If our species has a single, all-powerful ability, it is to imagine. It is in us all to dream of a better world."
"Ashala speaks of a fight bigger than any that has gone before, but it is not a conflict between the privileged of her society and those who are not. It is a fight between those who want to stop the hating and those who don't. I believe humanity is in that fight now, and it might well define what is to come for our species. In The Foretelling of Georgie Spider, a better future is ultimately created by the global interconnection of those who choose compassion over intolerance, courage over fear, and love over hate.
Perhaps this could be the real world."On this of all days, let us remind ourselves to see the good in people, choose compassion over intolerance, courage over fear, and love over hate. If enough of us imagine, perhaps this could be the real world. Onwards to Anne Frank.
Keep each other safe. Keep faith. Good night.