He Who Dreams is Toronto writer Melanie Florence’s first book for Orca Limelights, a series of performing arts-focused stories for young readers. Florence is also the author of the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award–winning picture book Missing Nimama, the non-fiction titles Righting Canada’s Wrongs: Residential Schools and Jordin Tootoo, as well as other YA novels. With He Who Dreams, the author, who is of Cree and Scottish descent, reinforces that she is capable of writing engaging stories about indigenous subjects in any genre.
A high-school student with a Cree mother and an Irish father, John knows what it’s like to be caught between two worlds. When a chance encounter instills in him a new passion for indigenous dance, John finds himself juggling school, soccer, and dance classes, even as he faces judgmental attitudes from some of his fellow teammates and dancers. Resolving to dance at an upcoming powwow, John finds a way to stand up for himself so he can keep dancing and playing soccer.
John is an appealing character, a passionate teenager who works hard at both his prevailing interests. While he becomes a great dancer a little too quickly, his initial struggles are entertaining and realistic. Scenes between him and his parents and energetic younger sister, Jen, are especially well drawn, and the book’s supportive family dynamic contrasts well with the racism and conflict mentioned elsewhere. John’s relationships with his friends, however, are lacking, and more space could have been devoted to his friendship with soccer teammate Aiden, who is understanding of John’s choices but is an otherwise flat character.
While the book is not overly focused on racism, passing mention of some of John and Jen’s negative experiences, and acknowledgement of topics like cultural appropriation, help ground the story without feeling heavy handed. He Who Dreams offers readers a fast-paced story with realistic indigenous content, connecting the book to contemporary discussions about indigenous issues in Canada.