ARC Review Book Review

ARC Book Review | Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land by Toni Jensen

Title: Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land
Author: Toni Jensen 
Genre: Nonfiction
Published On: September 8, 2020
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Source: digital
Pages: 304

CW: All of them. But mostly physical, emotional, and gun violence.


A powerful, poetic memoir about what it means to exist as an indigenous woman in America, told in snapshots of the author’s encounters with gun violence.

Toni Jensen grew up around guns: As a girl, she learned to shoot birds in rural Iowa with her father, a card-carrying member of the NRA. As an adult, she’s had guns waved in her face near Standing Rock, and felt their silent threat on the concealed-carry campus where she teaches. And she has always known that in this she is not alone. As a Métis woman, she is no stranger to the violence enacted on the bodies of indigenous women, on indigenous land, and the ways it is hidden, ignored, forgotten.

In Carry, Jensen maps her personal experience onto the historical, exploring how history is lived in the body and redefining the language we use to speak about violence in America. In the title chapter, Jensen connects the trauma of school shootings with her own experiences of racism and sexual assault on college campuses. “The Worry Line” explores the gun and gang violence in her neighborhood the year her daughter was born. “At the Workshop” focuses on her graduate school years, during which a workshop classmate repeatedly killed off thinly veiled versions of her in his stories. In “Women in the Fracklands”, Jensen takes the listener inside Standing Rock during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and bears witness to the peril faced by women in regions overcome by the fracking boom.

In prose at once forensic and deeply emotional, Toni Jensen shows herself to be a brave new voice and a fearless witness to her own difficult history – as well as to the violent cultural landscape in which she finds her coordinates. With each chapter, Carry reminds us that surviving in one’s country is not the same as surviving one’s country. 

My thoughts

(Spoiler free)

I don’t like to rate memoirs. It seems strange to put a star rating on someone’s real-life story, something they’ve written how they remember it, and how they interpreted it. And I always seem to get something out of every memoir I read. Carry is powerful, so very current, and a poetic expression of the violence Toni Jensen has experienced so far in her life. Violence that is hard to read.

I read Carry quickly, speeding through it almost like ripping off a band-aid, knowing it would be difficult and wanting to just be done. So I don’t think I even appreciated it as much as I should have. But being two months away from a terrifying election, I didn’t know if my head was in the right space for such an important message. But reading about the shocking experiences Toni Jensen has been subjected to, instance after instance of gun violence that has touched her life, it further impressed upon me the importance of telling stories such as these.

This memoir is told in a collection of essays, and they’re not in chronological order—which was a bit distracting until I accepted that the order didn’t matter. Each story is separate, but woven together with a common thread—violence. Gun violence, physical violence, violence against women, violence stemming from racism. It should be unacceptable. It should not have become the norm. Jensen examines her own experiences, as well as historical ones, even taking a look at the literal definitions of certain words. It’s this focused attention that carries throughout the essays that kept me reading and learning.

And when I say this memoir is current, I mean current. It includes mentions of Covid-19 and George Floyd’s murder. There is something almost comforting about seeing these events we’re currently living in mentioned and discussed. Strangely, it made my negative headspace more tolerable, less lonely, I think. 

While your instinct may be to skip over this one because of the heavy material, I encourage you to read it. It’s only through the personal stories of victims that I think minds and hearts can be changed.

Thank you to the publisher, Ballantine Books, and Netgalley for providing me with an advance copy.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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About the Author

Toni Jensen
Toni Jensen

Toni Jensen is the author of Carry, a memoir-in-essays about gun violence, forthcoming from Ballantine. Her essays and stories have been published in journals such as Orion, Catapult and Ecotone, and have been anthologized widely. Her story collection, From the Hilltop, was published through the Native Storiers Series at the University of Nebraska Press. She teaches in the Programs in Creative Writing and Translation at the University of Arkansas and in the Low Residency MFA at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is Métis.

Have you read Carry? Did you add it to your tbr? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Wandering!

4 thoughts on “ARC Book Review | Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land by Toni Jensen”

  1. Wow, fantastic review, Dedra! This sounds like a very emotionally heavy and also maybe trauma heavy book but it sounds very important and impactful. I rarely read non-fiction but I think this one needs to be added to my TBR. I’m very curious about it!

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