I love when a book pleasantly surprises you. Especially when you read a book like The Sentence by Louise Erdrich at the end of the year, that ends up being a five-star read. I am a bit ashamed to admit this was my first Erdrich, but it is far from my last. Louise Erdrich is a household name in my area, as she owns Birchbark Books in Minneapolis. After reading The Sentence, I cannot wait to visit this iconic indigenous owned bookstore. Told through the main character, Tookie, who works at Birchbark Books, it sounds like a truly magical place. I plan on visiting when winter ends, so I can enjoy a peaceful walk around the lake while I take in all it has to offer.
The Sentence takes place in a small independent bookstore (Birchbark Books) in Minneapolis, from November 2019 through November 2020. Spanning the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial reckoning spurred by the murder of George Floyd. Tookie spent years in a female penitentiary for a crime she did not realize she was committing. Now that she is out, she works at Birchbark Books and has extreme passion for her job in book selling. When one of her most irritating and frequent customer's passes away, Tookie is convinced her spirit is now haunting the store. The Sentence follows Tookie's journey through navigating this haunting and all the happens in the world in this short span of time.
This is the second book I have read recently that takes place during the pandemic. The last book I read (Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult) was not a favorite of mine. To be honest, I did not like it at all. I was a little nervous going into The Sentence after having finished that disappointment, but wow, does Erdrich take everyone's thoughts, feelings and emotions and slap them into this novel. She captured the pandemic in a way that felt so real, true and visceral. Erdrich painted the scene of a grieving, angry and tired city that is Minneapolis. I was so invested in Tookie's life, that I hung on every word.
While the haunting is a major part of the plot, The Sentence is so much more than that one plot line. It is a story of an indigenous woman who has spent her life getting the short end of the stick and watching her people be persecuted day after day by those sworn to serve and protect. She is frustrated, angry, yet finds a peaceful solace in reading, which leads her to her job at Birchbark Books. I found it creative that Erdrich includes herself as a secondary character in the book. It was really fascinating and fun to read and I have never seen an author do that before.
Some of this story is "ripped from the headlines," but told in a way that you know is Erdrich's true experience because she lived this. She lives in Minneapolis, and she experienced first-hand the outrage over George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police, and the protests and riots that followed. Each word, and each sentence (see what I did there?) is filled with emotion and power. Erdrich's message is loud and clear. Her writing is incredibly descriptive and atmospheric that she is able to transport the reader to Tookie's little Minneapolis bungalow and the magic that is Birchbark Books. I was completely immersed.