Dawn Dumont’s book, Glass Beads, says ‘stories’ on the cover, but it’s not dissimilar to a novel. It follows four First Nations people around from childhood to adulthood, checking in on them during big life moments, or small moments that have large impacts.
Nellie Gordon is the overachiever, desperate to have nice things and get her law degree. And desperate to convince Everett Kaiswatim, her womanizing, handsome friend to marry her. Julie Papequash is beautiful, shy, vulnerable and loyal. Nathan (Taz) Mosquito becomes a community leader, but also a little violent when he drinks. They are all looking for a way to create a sense of family and a safe place to live in the world.
The back cover of Glass Beads states that Dumont’s book shows how difficult it can be for Indigenous people to live in a world where the rules don’t work for them. I think she achieves this: she has written four very different characters who show a breadth of human experience and who are vulnerable in different ways. Too often, First Nations characters appear one dimensional or hard to relate to in popular fiction. This is why having diverse writers is so important. It’s why having empathy for other cultures and respecting them is important too.
Reading Glass Beads is a reminder that life doesn’t always go the way you think it will; that people change; that circumstances do; that you can carry around hurt your whole life; that you can find a new path, if you want to.
The book is also an interesting look at friendship. The four main characters lives have intersected for years. There is love, trust, bitterness, anger, disappointment, fear and affection between them. At times, Julie resents Nellie because Nellie interferes and passes judgement on her. Nellie doesn’t always like Taz, but she ends up working for him anyway to help their people. Everett keeps going back to Nellie even when his interest is elsewhere, because she’s reliable. Taz loves Julie, but doesn’t treat her well. I like that it’s messy and complicated. We all can relate to that. We can all hope for better, too.