Written By: Tasha Spillett-Sumner
Illustrated by: Natasha Donovan
For Ages: YA
Language: English, some & Cree
Topics Covered: Friendship, Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), Gender Identity, Indigenous Voices, First Nations, Cree, Two-Spirit, Family, Foster Care, Growing Up, Mentors.
Surviving the City is a two-part (so far! I want more already!) graphic novel series following Indigenous folx (Dez and Miikwan) living in the city, navigating friendship, safety, the MMIW activism movement, and gender identity.
Dez and Miikwan are best friends, and both have ties to the MMIW movement. Dez is navigating what to do if their ailing grandmother passes away, because they don’t want to end up at a group home. Luckily at school, there is a program where Indigenous students can hang out, take part in cultural ceremonies, learn about First Nations history, and be mentored by an Elder named Linda. Something I love about Elder Linda’s character is her unwavering support for the youth, and also her ability to admit when she is wrong and a willingness to learn alongside the teenagers she mentors.
These graphic novels (which I immediately inhaled one after the other) are beautiful, poignant, and emotional. They touch on many points that teenagers can relate to, and provide a look into Indigenous activism and (in Vol II) gender identity. In Vol II (From the Roots Up) Dez is coming to understand their gender identity as Two-Spirit, and what that means for their participation in specific gendered ceremonies. Dez and Miikwan have a strong friendship despite sometimes not knowing the best ways to communicate, which is something that a lot of us can relate to. They support each other while they connect with their culture and fight for the recognition that the MMIW movement needs publicly in order to rally support to bring perpetrators to justice. I found the characters beautifully written in a relatable way that also taught me as a non-Indigenous person, more about the specific marginalization that is faced by Indigenous women and Two-Spirit people. I highly recommend you read these graphic novels, and I’m so excited to think that there might be a third volume on the way (fingers and toes crossed)!
Highwater Press was kind enough to provide e-copy’s of these graphic novels, but all opinions are my own. Volume II (From the Roots Up) is being released in October, but I enjoyed it so much I had to write up my review now!
TASHA SPILLETT-SUMNER (she/her/hers) draws her strength from both her Nehiyaw and Trinidadian bloodlines. She is a celebrated educator, poet, and emerging scholar. Tasha is most heart-tied to contributing to community-led work that centres on land and water defence, and the protection of Indigenous women and girls. Tasha is currently working on her PhD in Education through the University of Saskatchewan, where she holds a Vanier Canada Award.
Natasha is a Métis illustrator from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with a focus on comics and children’s illustration. Her short comic work has appeared in The Other Side Anthology (2016), edited by Melanie Gillman and Kori Handwerker, and This Place Anthology (2018), published by Portage & Main. She illustrated the award-winning children’s book “The Sockeye Mother” (written by Brett Huson) and the graphic novel “Surviving the City” (written by Tasha Spillett). She has a degree in Anthropology from the University of British Columbia, and has worked in academic and magazine publishing. She currently lives in Bellingham, Washington.