Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an E-ARC of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Gutter Child was a fascinating and amazing book by Canadian author Jael Richardson. This is Richardson’s first novel, preceded only by her memoir, The Stone Thrower. I had not heard much about this book before it’s release. It was from Richardson herself that I heard of it. She was leading a discussion on the 2020 Canadian Reads competition on her Instagram feed, and it was there that she mentioned her forthcoming book next year. I did not look into what the book was about–not even its genre. However, I ordered it and requested in on NetGalley to review because of how much I appreciated her discussion on the Canada Reads novels. Fast forward to 2021 and imagine my surprise upon learning that this was the type of science fiction light dystopia that I really like in books. For whatever reason, I was expecting some mundane narrative, historical or contemporary. I was thrilled to learn it was more speculative because of how thought provoking these types of books often are. Right away, I realized this was going to be an awesome book from the writing to genre and topic.
The book is set in a fictional world with similarities to our own. The Gutter people are a group of indigenous people who were colonized by a Euro-type settler. By the time our story begins, we see the Gutter people segregated and discriminator against, forced to live as slaves to work off the debt their ancestors accrued when they fought back against the settlers. Our perspective follows that of a young girl who was taken from the Gutter people and given to one of the Colonizers to raise as their own. There are heavy racial themes in this book, and I believe our main character is brown skinned. However, race is not the key identifier for this caste system. Rather, Gutter people have marks embedded on their hands.
The story follows our young protagonist as she’s forced to learn the truth of her world, a truth she has been shielded from by her adoptive mother. The story is fast paced and depressing. As our main character learns the truths of her world so do we. This book is an analysis of the horrors done by colonizers throughout history, to bother black and indigenous peoples. In fact, some of the ideas explored are of crimes that are, at best, only recently stopped. It’s this mirroring of real world issues–both modern and historical–that really makes the book shine.
Since I read the book, I’ve heard several great reviews. Njeri from ONYX Pages review is one checking out for sure!