Cover Image: The Barren Grounds

The Barren Grounds

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Member Reviews

This is an accessible and beautiful foray into Native American (or, since it's Canadian, First Nations) mythology and identity. Part fantasy, part middle-grades-coming-of-age, part celebration of native voices
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. Thank you to hearourvoicestours  for sending me the e-arc. 

Book: The Barren Grounds(Book #1: Misewa Saga)
Author: Robert Davidson
Publisher: Puffin Canada
Release date: September 8,2020
Genre: Middle grade fantasy

Eli and Morgan , indigenous kids who have been allocated to a foster home at Winnipeg stumbles into a path of self discovery , when they accidentally discover a secret portal in their attic. The portal opens into another parallel world, Aski. 

In the land of Misewa, abode of  walking and talking animals, time has come to a standstill- Green time was ages ago and White time is on the run. Eli and Morgan has no other way, but  to bring back the green time ,  lest Misewa should stay frozen and it's inhabitants die of starvation. 

The good and the bad: 
Robert Davidson has successfully merged fantasy and Cree folklore, which keeps the readers hooked till the end. This book gave me Narnia and Golden Compass vibes and is a perfect Fall read. It's rare to find indigenous representation in literature and the author sure deserves great  applause.If you are interested in diversereads, this book is for you. #diversereads

Looking forward to the next book in the series and many more of the author' s  works. 

Rating: 4/5.
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This just didn't work for me. Probably the writing, or the characters. DNF at 28%.

The plot took time to develop, but I found the characters unlikable and taken for granted. The explanations provided, the dreams and the ideas felt too easy and poorly projected.
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In the Barren Grounds we meet two children, Morgan and Eli, who find themselves in the same foster home in Winnipeg. Here they find a portal to a magical world and meet Ochek, the hunter for his community of Misewa. The writing for this book was excellent, incorporating indigenous stories with fantasy and coming of age. Watching Morgan and Eli learn more about Misewa and its traditions, and also gaining experience and confidence throughout the story was a delight. It was also really refreshing to have a story set in Canada at the start, and to meet a magical land where winter is a part of the story. My favourite part was Arik, whose sass had me laughing out loud at times!
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The Barren Grounds is a great fantasy novel featuring youthful characters that discover a portal into a new land... Cute Story.   Thanks NetGalley for the ARC.
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Robertson is such a great writer.

I love the way that he melds the tropes of MY fantasy, like Narina and Indigenous legend. I also so greatly appreciate how his #ownvoices work tells Indigenous story, lifts Indigenous voice and shines a light on Indigenous issues without focusing on trauma.
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This book was magical and a perfect example
of why it is so important that own voices tell the sorties that weave their culture into a book in an authentic and meaningful way. We are using this for a novel study and it’s also being borrowed by students who are Cree and very happy to see themselves in a book.
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This book was fantastic! As a child that adored portal fantasy growing up I definitely would have loved to have read this one when I was younger. I characters are great. I especially love Arik. Morgan's emotions are so rich and real and Eli is just adorable. I'd definitely recommend this book to fantasy lovers, especially those that like animals.
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A unique middle grade fantasy that pays homage to The Chronicles of Narnia while building a strong, authentic indigenous voice.  I liked how Robertson showed that the trauma Morgan experienced was being taken from her mother and her culture; it didn't have to come from having horrific, abusive foster situations after that (although many had not been pleasant.)  I also liked the subtle way he presents the challenges faced by Katie and James, her current foster parents, who are loving and trying to do their best and are still taking so many missteps.  And most of all, I loved Eli, her foster brother, and the characters in Aski, the North Country.  I do hope we get to join them for further adventures.
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THE BARREN GROUNDS is a story that brings me back to when I was a child when I had dreams of venturing into a fantastical land. Narina was a place of myth and intrigue, and a place I wanted to see. The magic of being pulled into a world that allows you to become a “better” you always intrigued me. Well, in THE BARREN LANDS, Morgan and Eli are two children that are pulled into a place called Askí. And, let me tell you, an amazing place indeed! David A. Robertson has a way of writing prose that really places  you in a place. My attention was held the entire time. I was filled with awe and wonder much like when I was ten years old. 

The characters, Morgan and Eli, so well written that at times, I thought I was thinking of a childhood friend and/or sibling. Their relationship seemed tested at times, but nonetheless…I won’t spoil it! 

THERE ARE TALKING ANIMALS!!!!! COME ON NARINA! Seriously, this novel is full of nostalgia! OMG!!!! I was living a full on childhood fantasy. The spinner is that the nuance is unlike any other MG story I’ve read in a while. THE BARREN GROUNDS is being marketed as Narnia meets Indigenous stories. I would say that is very well stated. I love everything about the nuances of the story. I could hardly put it down! Don’t be surprised if you see images of Narnia in my mood board! 

I loved the story so much that I had moments of jumping up and down…yelling…rooting…overall, I proudly give THE BARREN GROUNDS a 5/5 rating! And want to know what’s better? It’s only book 1! It’s book 1 of the Misewa Saga!!!!!!! 

All the characters, and  yes, there’s a special squirrel, truly have a place that makes sense. Throughout the entire story, the puzzle pieces come together right when they need to. THE BARREN GROUNDS truly is an art piece unlike many books. 

It doesn’t disappoint!!!!! The links are below for the book, and I hope you get yourself a copy.
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Loved this book! So many important topics packaged in a middle grade novel: the emotional toll of children in foster care, First Nations main characters, family and community. I can’t wait to read the rest of this series
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"On the barren grounds
It took facing my worse fears
Stepping out into the night
To find that I was brave enough
Before I found the light

It took stars within the sky
To guide my way back home
That I'll always know the way
Wherever I might roam"

Thank you so much Netgalley, author David Alexander Robertson, Hear our voices tours for this E-ARC.

When I read the synopsis, this book had me intrigued. Narnia meets traditional indigenous stories of the sky and constellations? Count me in. Also, the cover was beautiful. I haven't read much about Canada or any native Canadian authors, this was also one of the reasons I picked up this book.

These two indigenous children Morgan and Eli enter into this parallel world of Aski... how? Read the book to find out.

The pace of the book was fast at first and then it slowed down later on. So overall, my own reading pace got affected. I have mixed feelings about this book because at a certain point I felt like the story lost its track and got know what I mean? Or maybe that was me? Since I've been in a weird headspace these past months. Anyways, the author's usage of words from another language was epic and even the descriptions were in detail. I could really imagine these barren grounds with snow and blizzard. The talking animals too. I loved how he mixed the whole indigenous culture into this magical story.

I honestly recommend this book to young children.
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The Barren Grounds by David A. Robertson was a treat. It is obviously giving nods to Narnia, but is still distinct as its own portal fantasy. The main characters are Indigenous with one who is in touch with his culture and the other who has been cut off from her family and history so long she doesn't know her past. It's beautiful and I can't wait for the rest of the series.
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Thanks NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC for review.

This was an enchanting journey with Morgan and Eli in the realm of Askî. Although the secret way to this snowy realm seemed similar to Narnia, the mixture of Indigenous culture and new strange creatures like the Fisher made it this story unique in its own way.
A great escapism for fantasy lovers and young readers.
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A remarkable piece of storytelling that had my students enthralled. It was an excellent resource for their own exploration of imaginative writing and enabled long discussions on creating atmospheric settings and characters that a reader truly wants to build a friendship with. Would highly recommend for every classroom library.
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I agree with the statement that this feels very Narnia-esque and here's why:

We follow Morgan, that lives in a foster house with Katie and James and Eli, the other foster kid. Morgan seems to be a very angry and disconnected-from-her-origins type of kid. She seems to be unhappy and not very friendly, even to Eli.
On the way to school one day Morgan decides to start talking with Eli and find out more about him. For example, why is he always caring a drawing pad with him to which he answers that it was a gift from his father. And the drawing pad is the start of their adventure.
I feel like the beginning of the book drags quite a lot and the real adventure/story only starts 2/3 into the book but when it picks up it get's really good. 
Now back to the drawing pad! Unfortunately the one gifted by Eli's father gets ruined and Morgan decides to gift him a new one to cheer him up. When they get back home, Eli, starts drawing right away and he draws a snowy landscape that magically comes to life one night.
So when Eli decides to visit this new land, Morgan has no other option but to go too and get him back.
In this strange land they meet Ochek, a fisher and various other two-legged animals such as talking bears, owls, foxes and others. Another really important character is Arik, that later on joins the trio on their quest.
Ochek tells them they they are in the land of Askí more specifically Misewa. And in this strange land is always winter or the White Time like they like to call it. Ochek explains to the kids that the reason for this is because the Man stole the summer birds and they are stuck in the winter forever and that to get back the Green Time they need to get those birds back.. 
And so Morgan and Eli decide to help Ochek and therefore the rest of the village, that were dying of hunger, in this great new adventure.
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This is the book I've been waiting for. Recent years have given us many heartbreaking stories about the residential school system and how that affected our indigenous population - this story gives you a glimpse in what life was like in the aftermath. 
Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous children forced away from their families and communities, are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They each feel disconnected, from their culture and each other, and struggle to fit in at school and at their new home -- until they find a secret place, walled off in an unfinished attic bedroom. A portal opens to another reality, Askí, bringing them onto frozen, barren grounds, where they meet Ochek (Fisher). The only hunter supporting his starving community, Misewa, Ochek welcomes the human children, teaching them traditional ways to survive. But as the need for food becomes desperate, they embark on a dangerous mission. Accompanied by Arik, a sassy Squirrel they catch stealing from the trapline, they try to save Misewa before the icy grip of winter freezes everything -- including them. 
The well-intentioned attempts of the (white) foster parents to connect the children with their indigenous heritage are uncomfortable, but they should be. This is a very difficult topic and does provide cringe-worthy scenes, all while showing some of the fascinating culture in Aski. I can't wait for book 2!
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An intriguing introduction into the world of Askí, which is inspired by the author's Indigenous background. Reminiscent of the Narnia trope of going through a doorway into another world, the two children in "The Barren Grounds" must set out to rescue the Summer Birds from captivity. Absolutely loved the world building in this book. The author has done a fabulous job setting up the premise and I can't wait to read book 2 of this series!
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This book was such a cosy read that shows how kids too have to grapple with the issues adults tackle too; belonging and community. Especially when you come from a minority culture.

It follows Morgan and Eli, two indigenous kids in Canada living with their white foster parents. Morgan, who is a few years older than Eli, has been in the foster system ever since she can remember. This makes her feel disconnected from her community and she is always angry as a result. Where does she belong? Does she even belong anywhere? Meanwhile, Eli has the memories of his community always with him as he ended up in the foster system much later in life. He can speak Cree. But he is always sad as he misses his community desperately. Morgan envies him, though because she feels he is more connected with their people than she is.

Eli, who is an artist, unknowingly opens a portal to another world, Askí where animals can talk. They cross over into this parallel universe where time moves much faster than it does here on earth and meet a hunter, Ocheck, who tells them that his village, Misewa, has been cursed for the past few years and now it is always winter. They agree to help Ocheck and the other Misewans vanquish the perpetual winter. This leads them on an adventure that will give them both closure on what it means to belong with their community.

The book gave me such a warm buzz with its callbacks to The Chronicles of Narnia, which is one of my favourite series' of all time. I was a young kid again, following Morgan and Eli as they helped save a world, and helped heal themselves too. I also learned a lot about the culture of the Indigenous community in Canada. 

The poem at the end is so beautiful! It will linger in my mind for a while...

Some of my favourite quotes include:

"Say it again, like you remember it," Eli said. "Like you can speak it. Like you've always spoken it."

"In the books she read, it would exist only because of magic, but while there were talking animals on Askí, she was pretty sure there were no ice queens sleighing around, manifesting Turkish delights to tempt little boys."

"The land provides everything that anybody would need. If you take only what you need, the land renews itself so that it can provide more...When you take more than the land can provide, it stops giving."

"Nobody's really gone if they aren't forgotten."
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I don’t often read middle-grade for no particular reason. There are a number of books on my TBR that actually happen to be middle-grade but for whatever reason, I’ve continually put off reading them. The Barren Grounds quickly reminded me how great these books can be, even if they’re intended for an audience much younger than myself. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and am going to get the negative out of the way by saying there is none. This is an amazing book, with amazing character development and world-building. It also serves as an introduction to indigenous culture for those who may not as familiar with it. This book had me in tears at one point, and I was so invested in the world. The books does have some similarities to the classic Chronicles of Narnia, but I personally found this much more interesting and engaging.  

I learned some new things about indigenous culture from this book that sparked an internet deep-dive into the history of many First Nations people, their beliefs and cultural practices. I found my eyes opened to a culture, that I was aware of but never truly saw. This book opens the readers to a fantasy world, yes, but it also opens a part of our world so often forgotten or overlooked. I want everyone to read this book, be moved by the story, and be inspired to learn more. I recommend reading this book, and then going out and finding out more about the beautiful stories that inspired this one.
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