A wooden Iroquois healing mask, bearing brilliant eyes and a mass of black hair, sits abandoned in the home 12-year-old Cass Foster and her mother inherit unexpectedly. With its eerie sense of familiarity and a triumphant swell of mischievous voices, the object beckons to Cass. When her mother sells the mask to pay for a much-needed computer, Cass becomes determined to retrieve it. She enlists the help of her new friend, Degan, and the pair embarks on an extraordinary journey that leads Cass to discover her previously unknown Cayuga heritage.
The Mask That Sang is the second book by Susan Currie, and one of two titles to win Second Story Press’s inaugural Aboriginal Writing Contest. The author draws on her own adoption and Cayuga ancestry to tell a story centring on contemporary urban aboriginal experiences, highlighting complex topics such as bullying, poverty, and racism. Her use of plain and engaging language while depicting the intricate intergenerational legacies left behind by colonialism and residential schools renders these topics accessible and relatable.
Beyond its educational value, the book is also a fast-paced adventure story. Cass and Degan find themselves overcoming numerous obstacles, most notably Ellis McCallister, a clever and ruthless bully. At times, the book’s dialogue is stilted, making Cass and Degan seem older than their years, but Currie’s expert prose reveals that both have been weighed down by adult problems from an early age.
The Mask That Sang forces readers to confront the ongoing impact of the mistreatment of Canada’s aboriginal peoples, yet at the same time it offers a hopeful and positive perspective, focused on healing and the importance of embracing one’s community and culture.