Reviewed in this essay: The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy by Cherie Dimaline. Published by Theytus Books (June 2013).
The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy, written by celebrated Ojibway and Métis author Cherie Dimaline, weaves together a story of struggle, hope, and magic. As the main character, Ruby Bloom, experiences a series of traumatic childhood events, planets start to grow around her head. The planets represent everyday feelings of guilt, envy, anxiety, and a range of other common emotions.
The first planet, which soon becomes part of an entire galaxy, pops up when her grandfather dies. Ruby believes that his death is her fault because she had ignored her grandfather’s advice when she got lost exploring on her new bike. When her grandfather had brought her the bike on his last visit, his final words before she took off had been: “Now you don’t go far there.”
Ruby has an incredible imagination, and Dimaline paints a vivid picture of Ruby and her adventures. As you turn each page, you can almost feel the wind that blows through Ruby’s hair, feel the exertion as her legs pump furiously, and can see and feel the environment as she rides her new bike. You can visualize Ruby as a voyageur traveling at break-neck speed through the brush, paddling a Stingray canoe into the forests, venturing into the Dominion, becoming a fur trader like her ancestors, and fighting off wild animals.
Dimaline’s ability to make you feel what Ruby is going through is nothing short of amazing. As a reader, you feel the excitement of Ruby’s adventures and empathy for what she experiences. The death of her grandfather brings on new challenges for Ruby and her family, but we all know that death is a necessary part of life, and that everyone reacts to it in their own ways.
You also feel Ruby’s helplessness as she watches her mother eating herself to death and tries to deal with every change that comes her way: the soul-crushing job at a museum, the heartache of having a friend who both humiliates her and saves her at the same time, and the new life she lives in New Orleans.
The way that Dimaline describes how planets form and spin around Ruby Bloom’s head every time she feels a difficult emotion or event immerses readers into a fantasy world. And yet, the novel is also realistic in how it describes what everyone goes through in life — loss, change, growth, love, and opportunity.
This book mixes contemporary Indigenous experience with fantasy and magic and will resonate with you long after you put it down.