Red River Girl book cover

Red River Girl: BOOK REVIEW

Red River Girl is a gripping account of the unsolved death of an Indigenous teenager, and the detective determined to find her killer, set against the backdrop of a troubled city.

Red River Girl - book coverAs soon as I picked up the blue and white paperback copy of Red River Girl and read the quote featured on the front cover, I knew this book would profoundly affect me.

Tina Fontaine brought international attention to the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit folks. This retelling of her life and the investigation into her death is a breathtaking account of the fight to find justice for Tina.”

–WAB KINEW, Leader of the Manitoba NDP and author of The Reason You Walk

Honestly, this isn’t the kind of book I would normally choose to read.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an avid bookophile. It’s one of my…no, I can say with certainty that books are my primary obsession. I love to read.

For years, I only read non-fiction almost exclusively about spirituality and physics and how the two intersect.

But then Jeff, my sweetheart, reminded me of my childhood love of fiction, so I shifted gears, focusing more of my reading to fantasy stories and mysteries.

But I’m pretty sure you won’t find a single True Crime volume in my collection. There might be a couple of Sci-Fi thrillers for a change of pace, but nothing about actual violent events.

When I read, I read for two purposes:

  1. Research and information gathering.
  2. Entertainment – to escape reality.

This book does not fit neatly into either of those categories.

It goes against many of my inherent reasons for casual reading – to relax or gather useful information that will be of value in my life.

I try to avoid most of what I call ‘drama,’ I’ve had more than my share. And I’ve learned that I’m a much happier person when I stay away from it. Especially if the source does not impact my own life experience.

But more importantly, I’m what you might call a highly sensitive person. I’m empathetic. I feel energies and emotions more intensely than most people. And because of that, I try to limit my exposure to highly disturbing content.

This book about the murder of Tina Fontaine is the opposite of that.

Red River Girl tells a highly disturbing story.

But I also feel a strong pull to defend the innocent and abused.

So, I agreed to read and review this novel.

The author’s partner initially contacted me. He found me online due to my work as a promoter of self-published authors’ works.

When I learned that the author, Joanna Jolly, is an award-winning documentary maker and international journalist with the BBC, I was intrigued.

Her tenacious devotion to the research of this story is compelling.

As I opened the front cover to read the inside flap, I discovered this horrific string of murders was first brought to light back in August of 2014, when the body of a fifteen-year-old girl, Tina Fontaine was found in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada’s Red River.

The story begins in 2016, inside a jail in Manitoba after Joanna finally secured permission to interview a prisoner by the name of Raymond Cormier. Raymond was the prime suspect in Tina’s murder case. We later learn that Raymond did go to trial, but I won’t spoil the outcome for you here. You’ll have to read the book yourself to learn the verdict and the full story.

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Joanna’s investigation, though, depicts a horrifying trend taking place across the province of numerous Indigenous women and girls who have gone missing, and then later turned up dead. Many times, their bodies displayed evidence of brutality inflicted in the process of their murder.

Reading through the pages I found myself getting angrier and angrier. Why, I wondered, is this abhorrent behavior tolerated in a supposedly civilized Western society? Our neighbor to the north. I was appalled by the seeming ambivalence from so many law enforcement and government authorities.

Thank goodness for Sergeant John O’Donovan.

A detective who appears as a kind of hero in the investigation, O’Donovan was willing to take a public stand for Tina Fontaine and the other victims. At the press conference following the discovery of Tina Fontaine’s body in the Red River, O’Donovan is quoted as saying “This is a child that’s been murdered. I think society would be horrified if we found a litter of kittens or pups in the river in this condition.”

He goes on to work closely with Joanna, investigating not only Tina’s murder but those of the many other women and girls who have gone missing over the years in this territory.

In my research of the story, I pulled up YouTube to see if I could find any video footage of the case. I knew, from my reading, that it had stirred up national attention about the ongoing crimes against Indigenous women. In December 2015, even Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau made a speech before an audience of First Nations chiefs announcing that his government would launch a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

“The victims deserve justice, their families an opportunity to heal and to be heard,” he told them.

I discovered multiple YouTube videos about the case.

There is even a DocuSeries called Taken that tells the story over several episodes. Numerous CBS News segments reported on the story. The videos helped me put faces to the names of the main characters in the book. This took the reality of the incident to a whole new level for me.

But Red River Girl is a story about more than Tina Fontaine’s murder.

It’s even much more than a book about the many women and girls who have been victims of this torture and abuse.

I was shocked by the deeply disturbing societal norms depicted. Broken and dysfunctional family relationships…as example…Tina Fontaine’s mother was a child of just twelve years when her father, twenty-three at the onset of their relationship, impregnated her just one year later. This appears to be a not-uncommon circumstance, at least within the Indigenous peoples of Canada. Because of this, and the fact that her dad was a hardcore drug user, Tina ended up in the country’s Child Welfare program. Then ultimately raised by her aunt…a career foster parent with numerous children – infant to young adult – in her care.

My Takeaway

As I consumed this story, I was struck by the distinct impression that far too many people living in these types of circumstances lean on and expect the government to step in as a kind of moral caretaker. There seems to be the expectation that local and national authorities should protect and provide core life essentials, rather than individuals caring for their own needs.

This condition is not exclusive to Canada. We find it in the USA and any place such governmental entities exist.

Red River Girl is a disturbing, but well-researched tale of extreme sadness. The author shares her findings in an eye-opening, articulate, and caring fashion. As a reader, I could feel her impassioned effort to shine a light on an appalling societal situation that needs to be addressed and resolved.

If you care about truth, justice, equality, and the respectful treatment of women…of any caste, race, religion, color, or creed…this is a story you need to consume.  

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