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  • Tracy Sherlock

Book review: Probably Ruby a nuanced tale of Indigenous identity

Probably Ruby

By Lisa Bird-Wilson

Penguin Random House

Probably Ruby, by Lisa Bird-Wilson, is the story of an Indigenous girl, adopted into a white family in 1976. It’s told as a series of short stories, each focused on a person involved in her life. The stories are not told in a linear fashion – each one takes place in a moment in time and reveals its own facets of Ruby’s personality.

There’s her mother, Alice, in a story from 1981, and her father, Mel, in a story from 1989. There’s her birth father, her birth mother, her first boyfriend, her counsellor, her husband, friends and lovers. The many layers of Ruby become apparent as each story is told and as she reconnects with her Indigenous heritage.

Bird-Wilson is a Cree-Métis writer and poet from Saskatoon and this is her first novel. She appeared at the Vancouver Writers Fest with Katherena Vermette, author of The Strangers, a novel about an Indigenous family. She said at the event that Ruby is trying to invent her identity to recover from the trauma of being adopted and losing her heritage.

“Ruby is sort of struck and horrified by the idea of what she missed and longed for in her life,” Bird-Wilson said. “You need to know who you are, where you come from. … To build that narrative of yourself is so important.”

There’s a lot to think about in Probably Ruby, going back generations. There’s a chapter about residential school and another about the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. There are chapters about troubled teenagers and unmarried pregnant women. Just like all of us, Ruby is a product of the many, many layers of her past. Bird-Wilson gets the nuances of her story just right.

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