‘There is resilience within this work’: Panel discusses importance of 2021 common book ‘The Marrow Thieves’

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On April 7, a panel of professors, coordinators and members of the common book committee met via Zoom to discuss the importance of the 2021 common book “The Marrow Thieves” and how it fits into many classes at Kansas State.

Set in a dystopian world ruined by global warming, “The Marrow Thieves” brings to light issues of race and sexuality. The Indigenous North American protagonist fights against being hunted for their bone marrow, which will allow others the ability to dream.

“Something that really has struck me is the language that is used in the book, returning to traditional language,” Brandon Haddock, coordinator of the LGBT resource center, said.

“I think there is a real importance in our students’ understanding about language …” Haddock said. “We have tribal identities that have lost their language completely. There is a huge movement right now to take back our language and to really explore how that language can help us through the cultural trauma.”

The K-State First Book Committee chooses a book each year to help students transitioning to college have a common experience with a book and through classes and experiences surrounding that reading.

Haddock explained that K-State and K-State First chose this book because it focuses on a variety of topics that many students can relate to and learn from, such as gender, classism and racism. Above all, reclaiming identity is at the heart of the novel.

“There is resilience within this work,” Haddock said. “Dominant culture controls spirituality, language, education, tradition; those get erased … Individuals are taking those back and reasserting their identities to survive … Taking back an identity that you may have and how difficult it might be to face a generational trauma that has occurred and to face oppression and racism and homophobia are things that are evident in this work.”

As Haddock read a quote from the book, they stressed how the book would teach students to make changes for the future, not only for their benefit but for others.

“’Sometimes you risk everything for a life worth living, even if you are not the one alive to live it.’” Haddock said. “Teaching this to our first-year students is an amazing opportunity for us to convey to them the importance of not just the moment; of doing for others so they can live better lives.”

The group talked about how the relevance of this book today continues with its themes of resistance and the ability to not be docile as we live through a pandemic, where it may be easy to give up or feel discouraged.

“We are living in a pandemic and Indigenous people have lived through multiple pandemics and we have been resilient and resistant,” Haddock said. “And when we think about queer themes, we have survived a pandemic as well.”

English professor Lisa Tatonetti has taught this book in several classes already and said her students loved it. Many students grew up reading dystopian books like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent,” so this book resonates with this generation.

But many popular books and movies feature a white protagonist, and “The Marrow Thieves” brings needed diversity to the field with its characters taking back Indigenous representation. It also challenges the narrative of what is considered a YA dystopian novel, as it pushes against homophobia and ageism, revolving around a middle-aged love story between two queer characters.

“Not only is “The Marrow Thieves” a great book, and students love it because of that, but these sorts of statistics speak to why we need Indigenous futurisms and why our students need [this book],” Tatonetti said.

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