A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this book about Eskimo and American Indian children attending a Catholic high school during the first four years of the 1960s touches on racism both within and outside of native cultures. Although not depicted as all bad, the priests do beat the students when they misbehave and subject them to radiation testing without their permission; one boy is taken away from his brothers and sent to live with a white family. Most of the children come from broken homes, and more than one has been abandoned by a parent. Some of the kids bully and manipulate the others, although ultimately they realize that they have more in common with each other than with the adults who control their lives.
What's the story?
Luke and his brothers are leaving their Inuit village north of the Arctic Circle to attend Sacred Heart School. Chickie is a white girl who didn't realize she wasn't Eskimo until she was 5. Sonny is the leader of the Indian kids and feels responsible for keeping them all united. Donna is an orphan who was abandoned at age 5 by the nun who brought her up. These children, each in their own way strong, scared, damaged, and hopeful, are all sent to the Catholic school because their villages can't offer them an education beyond grade school. Against the backdrop of the Cold War in the Kennedy era, they come together under the often stern, occasionally affectionate guide of the priests and nuns. Together, they travel from adolescence into adulthood, learning how to accept one another and unite despite their differences and ancient tribal rivalries.
Is it any good?
A dual narrative can be difficult to pull off; Edwardson succeeded in her first novel, Blessing's Bead, and does a decent job in her second. Here, she writes from the point of view of not two but five different characters. Edwardson's strengths lie in her poetic imagery and complex characterizations that let you understand each person's motives and emotions. However, though the situations of each character are varied and the family history of each is interesting, the voices themselves are not always distinct. This, along with the fact that the book covers a period of four school years, gives the reader sometimes too-brief glimpses into what the large cast of characters is going through. Still, it also helps move the story along at a brisk pace and, despite the brevity, it is easy to get caught up in this fascinating world and to feel invested in whether Luke will ever see his little brother again, or if group leaders Sonny and Amiq will overcome their differences.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the challenges native people face in white society. This story is set in the early 1960s. How have things in the United States changed in since then?
Why do you think Sonny feels he has to watch over the Indian students? Is there anyone at your school who watches out for other kids in this kind of way?
Each character faces a different struggle, either at home, school, or both. Which of the characters' problems would you find the most difficult to deal with? Which are the easiest?
The students join together to protest some of the injustices carried out against them. After so many years of the students opposing each other, what do you think sparks this unity?
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