Brandon Reid’s debut novel Beautiful Beautiful centres around 12-year-old Derik Mormin, who is Heiltsuk through his father and English through his mother. After living in the city for all of his life, he is detached from knowing his cultures – and detached in some ways from his identity. For the first time in his memory, he travels to Bella Bella with his father George and the shaman Raven for his Heiltsuk grandfather’s funeral service. Ever-present throughout the narrative (and most often the story narrator) is Redbird, Derik’s omniscient spirit guardian, who, Raven notes, may also be a trickster.
George buys a boat (against Derik’s mother’s advice) and the group sets off for the funeral. What was initially a trip to say goodbye to his grandfather, see where his dad grew up, and do a little fishing becomes so much more for the young protagonist. Along the way, they do fish, encounter a wicked storm, meet many relatives whom Derik has not seen since he was very young, attend the ceremony, and honour a man that Derik barely knew. As he discovers more about the land and the people who live there, Derik bonds with his dad and his relations, his Elders, and Heiltsuk traditions and culture. Not only is the novel a literal journey north, it also develops into a journey of discovery as he grows in the knowledge of his culture, his People, and his place within the world. Derik begins the story as an insecure boy and by the end is a young man growing in confidence.
Reid breaks free from conventions of Western writing, exposing the reader to multiple viewpoints, different narrative styles, and interesting time shifts throughout the novel. We are drawn into a rich Heiltsuk worldview; the story is decolonized, in that we begin to recognize all our relations through the narrator – who may be the central character, or who may be the omnipresent, all-knowing Redbird. In the course of the story we learn a little bit about Indigenous history, traditions, and Indigenous-settler relations – and importantly, about the culture and relations as they are today. Derik is a sympathetic character, and as he grows in understanding, the reader cheers for him to triumph.
At one point Derik notes that in Spanish, Bella Bella means “beautiful beautiful.” Trauma and challenges exist within the family, but so do beauty and love, and Derik ultimately learns who he truly is. Discovering that beauty may be the purpose of Derik’s homecoming; the reader certainly comes away from this authentic Indigenous coming-of-age fiction with the wonderful message that life is ultimately beautiful.