This review is written by Dana Svitavsky. 

Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq

If you’re interested in coming-of-age stories that don’t shy away from heavy topics, you should check out Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq, a heartfelt narrative told in poetry and prose. The story centers on a girl who grows up in Nunavut during the 1970s. We aren’t given the name of the girl, and, though the book is fictional, parts of the story are based on Tagaq’s personal experiences.

Spit Tooth also includes references to existing myths. However, the book’s references shouldn’t be taken as accurate representations of the traditional myth. As Tagaq said in an interview with the Globe and Mail, “I’m worried that people might take my version of this myth as traditional, but I guess that’s not my fault if I can’t write a fictitious book.”

Each chapter focuses on a moment in time and ends with a poem. Most of the chapters are in chronological order, with a few exceptions. There are also a handful of illustrations by Jaime Hernandez throughout the book. Split Tooth tells the story of the protagonist handling the business of everyday life with her friends, family and schoolmates. The book also chronicles her encounters with spirits. These two elements become more intertwined as the story progresses.

Tagaq does an extraordinary job of creating a strong sense of place. This comes through as she describes sights, smells as and weather. She vividly portrays the experience of living in a place where at one part of the year the sun will be out 24/7 and another where the sun is gone 24/7.

Split Tooth is for a mature audience as it includes explicit sexual content and covers heavy topics. Before you start reading, I recommend you ensure you’re in a headspace to handle mentions of pedophilia, sexual assault, physical assault, alcoholism and bullying.

In Split Tooth, Tanya Tagaq has created a poignant rendering of the experience of an Inuit girl growing up in 1970s Nunavut. If any of the book’s topics interest, you and you feel comfortable reading about the heavy topics, then I 100% recommend this book. I also recommend checking out this video of Tagaq talking about the book and reading an excerpt at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas.

Split Tooth is available for sale at the VMM gift shop. We also hold a copy in our Volunteer Library. All VMM volunteers and members have borrowing priveledges with the Volunteer Library