Book Review of Amanda Strong’s Four Faces of the Moon
CONTENT WARNING: Buffalo Extermination, reference to Buffalo death,
A few months ago, ITMP did an Indigenous authors highlight with a list of book recommendations. I’m happy to add another book to the list! I recently read a graphic novel by Amanda Strong, a Michif storyteller, filmmaker, artist, and author. She is currently working out of Vancouver. The novel is a story about courage, resilience, and honouring family history. I really liked it, and I wanted to share it on the blog as a book review. If you like what you hear, check out your local library or bookstore for a copy, or find it online at Four Faces of the Moon | Annick Press! Strong is a talented filmmaker as well, so if videos are more your style, you can learn about her stop-motion animated films on her website. Strong has also worked with the First Nation Child & Family Caring Society to illustrate children’s storybooks and turn them into animated videos.
Title: Four Faces of the Moon
Author: Amanda Strong
Age range: 13+
Length: 199 pages (including afterword and preface)
Content warnings: buffalo extermination, use of a racial slur, reference to residential schools, reference to the catholic church
Four Faces of the Moon is a graphic novel adapted from the author’s stop-motion animation of the same name. The book is divided into 4 chapters. Each is represented by a different phase of the moon (the four ‘phases’ and ‘faces’ of the moon was a lovely play on words in the title, I thought!) featuring Northern Michif, Cree, Nakoda, or Anishinaabemowin on the chapter title pages. As the story is based on the author’s own family history, each phase travels further back in time to follow the protagonist’s ancestors through history. We witness events like the building of railways, the near-extinction of the buffalo, and the Battle of Batoche, showing how her family was involved in, as she put it, “every major historic event in Western Métis history.”
As the text is sparse, the artwork tells most of the story. Throughout the novel, it is strikingly laid out, with many 2-page spreads and fluid transitions from panel to panel. The images are a combination of digital art and claymation, creating a unique artistic style with rich textures, lifelike depth and limited but contrasting colour palettes. The symbolism used strikes right to the heart of the story’s emotions and legacy, lending a dream-like quality to the work. I had a breath-stopping moment early in the book, when a white buffalo skull hung bright in the night sky instead of the moon. The author gives space for the reader to reflect on the enormity of the buffalo extermination, to mourn and honour what had once been. As the buffalo continued to appear layered throughout the story, I began to feel the depth of the connection between the story of the buffalo and the story of the Metis people in a way that would have been difficult to translate in words alone. Though the ending is open to interpretation, to me it speaks to the strength and guidance the protagonist finds in her ancestors, and her determination to continue her ancestors legacies’ by becoming a source of strength and guidance for future generations.
What I loved about Four Faces of the Moon is that after the story, there is an afterword containing a timeline of events and additional information about the Métis, buffalo, and railway. It’s beautifully written, describing Métis families like “the interwoven roots of willow trees,” and how piles of buffalo skulls “haunt[ed] the Prairies” during the mid-late 1800s. This afterword gave social and political context to the story’s events, and it helped me understand subtle references in the story. Overall, I highly recommend this graphic novel for anyone who doesn’t want a text-heavy book, but loves visual art and is looking for a deep, meaningful story that will stick with them for years to come.
Author: Basil, ITMP Admin & IT Support