Black Apple

Black Apple

A dramatic and lyrical coming-of-age novel about a young Blackfoot girl who grows up in the residential school system on the Canadian prairies.

Torn from her home and delivered to St. Mark’s Residential School for Girls by government decree, young Rose Marie finds herself in an alien universe where nothing of her previous life is tolerated, not even her Blackfoot name. For she has entered into the world of the Sisters of Brotherly Love, an order of nuns dedicated to saving the Indigenous children from damnation. Life under the sharp eye of Mother Grace, the Mother General, becomes an endless series of torments, from daily recitations and obligations to chronic sickness and inedible food. And then there are the beatings. All the feisty Rose Marie wants to do is escape from St. Mark’s. How her imagination soars as she dreams about her lost family on the Reserve, finding in her visions a healing spirit that touches her heart. But all too soon she starts to see other shapes in her dreams as well, shapes that warn her of unspoken dangers and mysteries that threaten to engulf her. And she has seen the rows of plain wooden crosses behind the school, reminding her that many students have never left here alive.

Set during the Second World War and the 1950s, Black Apple is an unforgettable, vividly rendered novel about two very different women whose worlds collide: an irrepressible young Blackfoot girl whose spirit cannot be destroyed, and an aging yet powerful nun who increasingly doubts the value of her life. It captures brilliantly the strange mix of cruelty and compassion in the residential schools, where young children are forbidden to speak their own languages and given Christian names. As Rose Marie matures, she finds increasingly that she knows only the life of the nuns, with its piety, hard work and self-denial. Why is it, then, that she is haunted by secret visions—of past crimes in the school that terrify her, of her dead mother, of the Indigenous life on the plains that has long vanished? Even the kind-hearted Sister Cilla is unable to calm her fears. And then, there is a miracle, or so Mother Grace says. Now Rose is thrust back into the outside world with only her wits to save her.

With a poet’s eye, Joan Crate creates brilliantly the many shadings of this heartbreaking novel, rendering perfectly the inner voices of Rose Marie and Mother Grace, and exploring the larger themes of belief and belonging, of faith and forgiveness.
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781476795171 | 
  • May 2017
List Price $19.99

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Reading Group Guide

Introduction:

Joan Crate draws on first-hand knowledge of and sympathy for Indigenous cultures to write Black Apple, a dramatic and lyrical coming-of-age novel about a young Blackfoot girl who grows up in the residential school system on the Canadian prairies. The novel captures the strange mix of cruelty and compassion in these schools, as it shows the perspective of two very different women whose worlds collide during this time in Canadian history.

Topics & Questions for Discussion:

1. Discuss the image of a baby bird and its relation to Rose Marie at the beginning of the novel.

2. Chapter 2 introduces Mother Grace as work-weary. Do you sympathize with her? As the novel progresses, how does your opinion of Mother Grace change?

3. Upon their arrival at St. Mark’s, the students are all given “proper names.” However, Anataki resists, secretly keeping her Blackfoot name. Discuss the significance of this act of rebellion. How does Rose Marie’s friendship with Anataki affect Rose Marie throughout the novel?

4. Rose Marie “felt hot and tingly-itchy sitting in the too-big desk in a colourless classroom, and sometimes she saw that new sister with the bunched-up skirt who always disappeared again. Maybe she was seeing backwards, at what people used to be. It made her want to run, but she wasn’t allowed to run inside the school.” What is the significance of Rose Marie’s see more

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About the Author

Joan Crate
Photograph (c) David Chittick

Joan Crate

Joan Crate was born in Yellowknife, North­west Territories, and was brought up with pride in her Indigenous heritage. She taught literature and creative writing at Red Deer College, Alberta, for over 20 years. Her first book of poetry, Pale as Real Ladies: Poems for Pauline Johnson, has become a classic. Her first novel, Breathing Water, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Award (Canada) and the Books in Canada First Novel Award in 1989. She is a recipient of the Bliss Carman Award for Poetry and her last book of poetry, SubUrban Legends, was awarded Book of the Year by the Writers’ Guild of Alberta. She lives with her family in Calgary.

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