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From the Ashes

My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way


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About The Book

*Winner, Kobo Emerging Writer Prize Nonfiction
*Winner, Indigenous Voices Awards

*Winner, High Plains Book Awards
*Finalist, CBC Canada Reads
*A Globe and Mail Book of the Year
*An Indigo Book of the Year
*A CBC Best Canadian Nonfiction Book of the Year

In this extraordinary and inspiring debut memoir, Jesse Thistle, once a high school dropout and now a rising Indigenous scholar, chronicles his life on the streets and how he overcame trauma and addiction to discover the truth about who he is.

If I can just make it to the next minute...then I might have a chance to live; I might have a chance to be something more than just a struggling crackhead.

From the Ashes is a remarkable memoir about hope and resilience, and a revelatory look into the life of a Métis-Cree man who refused to give up.

Abandoned by his parents as a toddler, Jesse Thistle briefly found himself in the foster-care system with his two brothers, cut off from all they had known. Eventually the children landed in the home of their paternal grandparents, whose tough-love attitudes quickly resulted in conflicts. Throughout it all, the ghost of Jesse’s drug-addicted father haunted the halls of the house and the memories of every family member. Struggling with all that had happened, Jesse succumbed to a self-destructive cycle of drug and alcohol addiction and petty crime, spending more than a decade on and off the streets, often homeless. Finally, he realized he would die unless he turned his life around.

In this heartwarming and heart-wrenching memoir, Jesse Thistle writes honestly and fearlessly about his painful past, the abuse he endured, and how he uncovered the truth about his parents. Through sheer perseverance and education—and newfound love—he found his way back into the circle of his Indigenous culture and family.

An eloquent exploration of the impact of prejudice and racism, From the Ashes is, in the end, about how love and support can help us find happiness despite the odds.


From the Ashes PROLOGUE
The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.

Matthew 11:12


Frenzied squeaks of jail-issued blue deck shoes on sealed cement followed by wet smacks, fast pops, loud cracks, and finally a dull thud confirmed it. A guy lay crumpled on the range floor, our range quartermaster told us. He wasn’t conscious. His legs were seized straight, quivering uncontrollably. He had pissed and shit himself.

We didn’t need to see it with our own eyes. The unseen, the unknown, in jail is often worse than the seen, the known.

The next day, after cell search, I heard that he had died en route to hospital.

Someone said he’d stolen a bag of chips from another inmate’s canteen, but who knew?

Who cared?

It was jail justice. The thief got what he deserved. According to us, according to society. At least that’s what I told myself. All I knew for sure was that I didn’t know anything and I hadn’t seen anything. I’d only heard it, but I wouldn’t even tell the guards that much. I had to survive, and the only way you did that was by keeping your mouth shut, turning your head away.

What was I doing here in jail anyway? Why had I put myself in the midst of this filth, this horrible violence?

The answer was simple.

I did it to save my leg—and my life.

Reading Group Guide

From the Ashes
Jesse Thistle
Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for FROM THE ASHES includes an introduction and discussion questions. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Jesse Thistle, once a high school dropout and now a rising Indigenous scholar, chronicles his life on the streets and how he overcame trauma and addiction to discover the truth about who he is.

From the Ashes is a remarkable memoir about hope and resilience, and a revelatory look into the life of a Métis-Cree man who refused to give up.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Consider Jesse’s childhood pain and constant longing for his parents’ love. How are hunger and longing significant to Jesse and his memories of his childhood? How do they shape who he becomes? How do these feelings transform throughout the memoir?

2. Consider Jesse’s taunts and anger toward his brother. What exactly does Jesse seem to hate? Why do you think Jesse rejects his heritage despite his longing? How can we make connections between his anger at his parents, his frustration with himself, and his rejection of his heritage?

3. Throughout the memoir, the power of choice, and the results of making the "right" choice, weigh on Jesse. In what ways does he seem to feel like he has no choice, like he must behave in ways he knows are wrong? How do others try to convince him that he does have a choice? What seems to fuel Jesse’s decisions throughout the book?

4. How can we consider Jesse’s actions as a function of the many traumas he’s faced? How did his brothers somehow heal from that trauma? What does the story suggest about the healing powers of reclaiming one’s heritage/becoming self-aware?

5. Why does it affect Jesse so much when Karen tells him he should be proud of his heritage? Why do you think he was scared to tell her at first? Why does it seem to be so significant to him that she’d say that and that her family took enthusiastic interest?

6. When Jesse and his grandmother go to shop at the Bay, she declares, “Our family built this country, Jesse.” How does her past and her story contrast with the common European understanding of Canadian history?

7. How do Jesse’s interactions with other minorities underline the themes of power imbalances throughout the memoir? What does the book suggest about how these communities fit into Canada as a nation?

8. Jesse describes his ancestors as the “forgotten people.” In what ways is he a “forgotten” person? How is his personal history and familial history forgotten? What mechanisms, structurally and historically, are in place to make a people forgotten, and how do they configure here? What other communities might be considered forgotten?

9. Consider when Priest tells Jesse that all convicts are “broken-hearted people hurt by life” and that it’s all just “love gone bad.” How is this true for Jesse? What in his life had broken his heart? How has love gone bad for him?

10. Consider how many help Jesse in his life, despite his issues. What does that suggest about humanity? How does their goodwill help him? Are their ways in which it hurts him? How are these acts inevitably complicated and fraught?

11. What role does identity, as well as its implications and roots, play in this memoir? How does Jesse’s identity change throughout? How does his understanding of who he is change? What impact did not understanding his identity have on him?

12. In Jesse’s dedication, he names several ways that Indigenous communities were affected by Canadian policies and colonial strategies. For instance, he discusses the Sixties Scoop, residential schools, and, in the body of the memoir, land wars and treaties. How does he make the connection between these policies and his own personal struggles?

About The Author

Lucie Thistle

Jesse Thistle is Métis-Cree, from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and an assistant professor in Humanities at York University in Toronto. From the Ashes was the top-selling Canadian book in 2020, the winner of the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for Nonfiction, Indigenous Voices Award, and High Plains Book Award, and also a finalist for CBC Canada Reads. Jesse won a Governor General’s Academic Medal in 2016, and is a Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation Scholar and a Vanier Scholar. A frequent keynote speaker, he lives in Hamilton, Ontario, with his wife, Lucie, and is at work on multiple projects, including his next book. Visit him at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (August 6, 2019)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982101213

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Raves and Reviews

“A heartbreaking and honest debut.” The Globe and Mail

“Blown away by [this] eloquent memoir of Métis life and surviving the streets . . . [a] strong contender for #CanadaReads.”
EMMA DONOGHUE, New York Times bestselling author of Room

“A memoir of resilience, spirit, and dignity from a gifted storyteller. It is, at heart, also about the many shapes that love can inhabit. When you plan to read this book, clear your schedule. It will hold you in its grasp and won’t let you go, like a great novel. It’s all the more remarkable that this is not fiction. This book will stand out in my reading experience for a long time to come.”
SHELAGH ROGERS, OC, host and a producer of CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter, and honorary witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

“So fortunate to have the opportunity to read From The Ashes. . . . You’ll be drawn into the life journey of someone who’s struggled so deep yet has risen up to share with us what it means to be human. A deeply moving read.”
CLARA HUGHES, Olympian and author of Open Heart, Open Mind

“This memoir haunts, gnawing at the soul as we walk with Jesse through his many incarnations. . . . If you want a glimpse at why some of our brothers and sisters end up on the streets, read this book.”

“In spare and often brutal prose . . . Thistle weaves a narrative punctuated with joy and comedy and ultimately redemption.”
Toronto Star

“An illuminating, inside account of homelessness, a study of survival and freedom. Jesse Thistle delivers a painfully lyrical book, a journey through the torrents of addiction and trauma, masterfully sliding in humour and moments of heart-expanding human connection. I found myself gasping out loud at parts, unable to put the book down. Jesse’s story shows us that there is nothing that cannot be transformed.”
AMANDA LINDHOUT, bestselling co-author of A House in the Sky

“In this page-turner of a memoir—raw, honest, gripping, wrenching, and inspiring—Jesse Thistle gifts us with an intimate and bracing look into the realities, traumas, and triumphs of Indigenous life in today’s North America.”
GABOR MATÉ, MD, bestselling author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction

“A gritty memoir recounting the devastating long-term effects of childhood abandonment. . . . The theme of estrangement is powerfully portrayed in what is ultimately a story of courage and resilience certain to strike a chord with readers from many backgrounds.”
Library Journal

“Candid and cutting, Jesse Thistle lays down his story with a brutal beauty you’ll never forget. From the Ashes is a guided tour through a broken heart just trying to keep beating, both failing and succeeding spectacularly.”
CHERIE DIMALINE, bestselling author of The Marrow Thieves

“Jesse’s story is shocking, intriguing, and compelling. He goes deep into the conflicting forces pulling him in different directions, the pain of knowing how he was letting down his grandmother, the terrifying sickness of addiction, and his own uncertainty about how to break the cycle. All the decks were stacked against him, yet he did learn to make the right choices. He had every right to blame ‘the system,’ but he never resorted to that easy strategy. His unexpected strength is remarkable.”
CHARLOTTE GRAY, award-winning biographer and bestselling author of The Promise of Canada

“The best stories are the ones that stay with you. From the Ashes will stay with me for a long time. Maarsii to Jesse for coming through to tell this story. It is an important one. The revolutionary kind. The kind of story that changes how you look at the world, that shows us how amazing human beings can be, so capable, strong, resilient, powerful.”
KATHERENA VERMETTE, bestselling author of The Break

“[This] powerful and moving memoir is also a scathing indictment of the treatment of Indigenous people and the myriad ways systems fail them.”
— Booklist

“This is a work that should not be mistaken for a redemption story—it is a love story. About family. Community. A partner. Most of all: this is a love story about Jesse Thistle. How he came to love himself. Why he is worthy of love. And, importantly, how you will love him when you are done reading. This book signals change: in our understanding of worth, our compassion in the face of harm and self-harm, and the power and possibility that can exist in spaces we try to forget about. Jesse Thistle is amazing. His story is stunning. We will talk about colonial and other violence differently on Turtle Island because Jesse lived them and shared them with us. With an openness, candour, and generosity that is inspiring. Its uglybeautiful/hurtlove will resonate with you long after you finish turning the pages. I am proud to call him nisîmis (my little brother).”
TRACEY LINDBERG, bestselling author of Birdie

“Stereotypes and conventional understandings are about to be challenged. . . . In the world Thistle inhabits, poverty, addiction, and homelessness are all one step over a line. Some are pushed, some stumble, and some jump. . . . The places Thistle takes us come together to illustrate a common theme: we look for home wherever we can find it. Over the course of the book, Thistle builds a better world for himself, one day and one decision at a time. It is a remarkable transformation to witness, and the arc of his story will make the reader want to cheer.” ­­
Quill & Quire, starred review

“Hits you like a punch in the gut. It’s an unflinching, heartrending, and beautifully written story of survival against seemingly impossible odds. But it’s also a book that should make you furious. Thistle paints a vivid portrait of a country seemingly incapable of doing right by Indigenous youth or by those struggling with homelessness, addiction, and intergenerational trauma. That he survived to tell this story is truly a miracle. Still, one question haunts me after finishing this powerful and devastating book: How do we ensure that the next generation isn’t forced to navigate a broken system that takes their lives for granted and fails them at every turn? My greatest hope, then, is that From the Ashes will be the wakeup call Canada needs.”
IAN MOSBY, historian and author of Food Will Win the War

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