Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Summary from Goodreads: From Newbery Medalist Susan Cooper, a story of adventure and friendship between a young Native American and a colonial New England settler.
On the winter day Little Hawk is sent into the woods alone, he can take only a bow and arrows, his handcrafted tomahawk, and the amazing metal knife his father traded for with the new white settlers. If Little Hawk survives three moons by himself, he will be a man.
John Wakely is only ten when his father dies, but he has already experienced the warmth and friendship of the nearby tribes. Yet his fellow colonists aren’t as accepting of the native people. When he is apprenticed to a barrel-maker, John sees how quickly the relationships between settlers and natives are deteriorating. His friendship with Little Hawk will put both boys in grave danger.
The intertwining stories of Little Hawk and John Wakely are a fascinating tale of friendship and an eye-opening look at the history of our nation. Newbery Medalist Susan Cooper also includes a timeline and an author’s note that discusses the historical context of this important and moving novel.
First Thoughts: After seriously considering abandoning this book, ultimately, I’m glad I stuck with it. My advice? Get to the BIG twist (you’ll know what I mean), and you’ll get hooked.
After finishing this book, I’m left with some conflicted feelings. I went from not liking this book at all (almost abandoning it), to getting really engaged in it, to learning that it’s not really an accurate portrayal of Native Americans of the time period.
I had a really, really hard time getting into this book. Everyday my students commented on my lack of reading progress. They kept telling me it must not be the right book for me (think they hear that often?), and I agree that this is definitely not my kind of book at all. However, it came recommended by some trusted sources so I read on. I’m glad I did, because at the halfway point or so, I finally got engaged. There is a SHOCKING turning point that really changes the path of the story. For as much as I was stuck in the beginning, I flew through the second half of the book.
Even though this is a young adult book (even promoted for tweens), I don’t really feel it’s for a young adult crowd, or at least not a broad crowd. Its pacing is extremely slow (the reason I almost abandoned it) and there’s a lot of descriptive detail. I found the prose, in some places, beautiful, but that’s not always a huge draw to my student readers.
In doing some research after finishing the book, apparently, there are many issues about the portrayal of Native Americans. They are in no way represented in a poor light, but nonetheless, everything in the book is not historically accurate. Even though this novel is labeled historical fantasy, it’s hard to separate from the historical piece. I’m really disappointed in this, because I felt like the novel provided a lot of information. Admittedly, I don’t know enough about Native American culture, beyond what I learned in school. However, if you’d like to know more about the discrepancies and criticism of the book check out Debbie Reese’s blog here.
Final Thoughts: I’m not sure how to feel, even weeks after finishing this book. It was a REALLY slow start for me, but I ended up finishing the second half in one night. I think it’s worth a read for fans of this genre, but it’s not worth a trip outside your reading comfort zone.
Who Should Read It? I think this book has an audience in survival and wilderness readers. I also think readers of this time period of historical fiction will enjoy this story (remember it’s not factual). I know a few students I will recommend this to, but I don’t think I would do a whole-group book talk with it.