Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire

Title: Secret Path
Author: Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire

My Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Secret Path

I did not know the story of Chanie Wenjack before I read this book. Nor was I really a fan of Gord Downie or graphic novels. Secret Path will be discussed in the February meeting of a book club I attend, so I decided to give it a try – and boy, am I glad I did so!

Twelve-year-old Chanie Wenjack died in 1966 running away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School. It’s a melancholy story, and probably one that was mirrored by other young people in other residential schools of the time. When Chanie ran away, he didn’t know that his home was 400 miles away, and he eventually succumbed to exposure as he plodded along in October in Northern Ontario in a light windbreaker.

To get the most out of this book, you should read it and listen along to Gord Downie’s 10-track album. I got the book from the library, so I wasn’t sure how I would go about getting the music to go along with it; however, I was able to find it easily on Google Play Music. The book contains the beautiful images interspersed with the lyrics of Downie’s accompanying music.

The story is illustrated beautifully by Jeff Lemire. I love how, the few times that Chanie remembers home during the story, Lemire uses warm colours to give a happy mood to the images. Most of the images, however, are in a cold blue, which portrays the loneliness, sadness, hopelessness, and the sheer cold of the situation.

He also uses repetition to really drive home the eerie sadness of the story. Chanie is often seen with snot running from his nose and shivering in the cold. There is one image after another of the railway tracks, so that you really get a sense of how far he goes and how difficult his journey is.

My favourite track on the album was The Only Place To Be. Somehow this song, although it’s close to the sad ending of the book, expresses some hope. I got the idea that, before he died, Chanie Wenjack had some sense of hope, and a sense that he believed it was the right thing to do.

Of course, I don’t think anyone really knows exactly what he thought or how he felt out there on the cold railway tracks. Secret Path has given me a new interest in the topic of Chanie Wenjack, and residential schools in general. I’ve put Wenjack by Joseph Boyden on hold at the library, and I hope I can read it soon.

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