The Red Canoe: A Thrilling Ride

The Red Canoe book cover image

Guest Post by Cindy Fazzi

A canoe is no speedboat, but Wayne Johnson’s The Red Canoe is a thrill of a ride. At the center of the novel are Buck, a carpenter, and fifteen-year-old Lucy. They are both Ojibwe living on the border of Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community reservation in Minnesota.

One afternoon, while Buck is building a boat in his garage, a girl in a dirty pink hoodie appears. Her name is Lucy, and she says: “I’d like to learn how to make boats.”

When Buck says yes, it’s the beginning of an entangled friendship neither of them expects. He has a habit of helping people and attracting danger along the way. Lucy happens to need help. Her policeman father, an Iraq War veteran, suffers from PTSD. She doesn’t have the courage to tell him that his fellow cops raped her. If she speaks out, they’ll kill him.

Lucy finds small comfort in Buck’s home where they build a red canoe. The story goes into overdrive when Lucy’s girlfriend Jean dies from a drug overdose. Lucy’s abusers meant to kill both Jean and Lucy. She and Buck are forced to dig up the dirt on the men.

The cops invite Lucy’s father to a deer-hunting trip in the snowy north, knowing he’ll bring his daughter along. Lucy fears they’ll eliminate her and her dad both. She and Buck use the titular canoe to lure the men into the icy caves in Lake Superior for a ferocious finale. This is a slow-burn literary thriller. The author, of mixed Native American and European descent, depicts “brokenness” in his characters with great empathy and without sentimentality. His experience living in the North Lakes region of Minnesota and his indigenous heritage all shine in this book.


The Red Canoe by Wayne Johnson. Agora Books, 2022.

Reviewer bio: Cindy Fazzi is a Filipino American writer and former Associated Press reporter. She has worked as a journalist in the Philippines, Taiwan, and the United States. Her historical novel, My MacArthur, was published by Sand Hill Review Press in 2018. Her contemporary thriller, Multo, will be published by Agora/Polis Books in June 2023. Her articles have appeared in Electric Literature, Forbes, and Writer’s Digest.

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