• Michelle Good’s new novel ‘Five Little Indians’ explores what happens when survivors leave residential schools. (Cover image: HarperCollins Canada)

Canadians are becoming more and more familiar with the story of what went on inside residential schools, but little attention is paid to what happens to residential school survivors after they’ve left those locations.

Michelle Good’s new novel Five Little Indians aims to change that. The story follows five residential school survivors as they struggle to find safety in Vancouver after they are finally released. Alone and without any skills, support or family, the characters cling to each other as they each attempt to find their place in the world.

“I think this is the story I was intended to write,” says Good, a Canadian author, lawyer and member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. “I’ve been thinking about residential schools and their impacts in many ways since I was a child.”

Both her mother and grandmother were residential school survivors, so Good says she grew up hearing stories of their time in the schools.

“It really is something that possessed me, if you will,” says Good. “[Residential schools] were a key component in the destruction of a culture. It’s something that has captured my psyche since childhood.”

Good says that although she did not attend residential school herself, the experience was “imprinted” in her DNA, and that the effects of residential schools are intergenerational.

“Even though I didn’t go to residential school, I know I’m impacted by my mother’s experiences,” says Good. “Our communities are suffering because of the harm inflicted in these schools. People need to understand that.”

While she doesn’t look at the writing of the book as a form of healing, she does look at the novel as something unique: a love letter to everyone who suffered and survived in residential schools. 

Good hopes the novel will help everyone who thinks reconciliation has been achieved in Canada understand that there’s still a long way to go. 

Five Little Indians will be available on shelves in April.

Related: Mapping Canada’s history of residential schools with Google Earth