“Every hidden thing” Kenneth Oppel

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Simon & Schuster. 357 p.

everyhiddenthingWith the Westward Expansion of the 1800’s came land grabbing and Native American battles, along with the discovery of dinosaur bones buried in rock. At that time the study of dinosaurs was relatively new, with fame and bragging rights associated with their unearthing. The intense rivalry by paleontologists Edward Drinker [Drinkwater] Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, to find the biggest and best of these bones and claim them as their own, became known as the “Bone Wars.”

Using these real life occurrences as background for his historical novel, Oppel introduces readers to Professors Bolt and Cartland. After being sent fossils from the largest dinosaur he’d ever seen, Professor Bolt and his son Samuel travel west to find the “Rex,”. Unbeknownst to him Professor Cartland and his daughter Rachel were on the same train, also seeking the Rex.

While engaging in regular conversation as a way to spy for their fathers, Samuel and Rachel fall in love. However, with the competition between their fathers heating up as each gets closer to discovering the Rex’s location, Rachel and Samuel’s love will be tested in ways neither had ever expected.

I really enjoyed learning about these paleontologists, as I had never known fossil hunting happened during the Westward Expansion. Besides the rivalry of two historical paleontologists, Oppel’s carefully researched novel also includes the impact of the expansion on the lives of the Sioux Indians and how some reacted. Though billed as a Romeo and Juliet type novel, “Every hidden thing” is much more. It is history come to life.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“If I Fall, If I Die” Michael Christie

Rated 3 stars *** Ebook. ARC. Published January 20, 2015. Hogarth.

IfIFallIfIDieInside has always been part of Will’s life. His mother Diane is afraid of everything, including Outside. When the fear is strongest she disappears into her own darkness, which he nicknamed the Black Lagoon. Extremely possessive and paranoid, she makes him take every precaution to avoid the same fate which befell her brother and father.

Schooling consists of listening to his mother read books, painting his masterpieces, listening to music and watching videos. Everything they need comes straight from deliverymen, courtesy of Diane’s credit card or checkbook. Life on the Inside has always been satisfying to Will, until the day he decides to investigate a strange Outside noise where he meets Marcus.

Soon Marcus is reported missing. Unable to bear the thought of his very first friend being lost, Will braves the Outside to attend school for the first time to find him. There he meets Jonah, who has been written off by the town because he’s Indian. Their friendship bonds around their mutual love for drawing and skateboarding, and the boys are soon inseparable. However as their search for Marcus intensifies, they realize there is something dark and dangerous happening in their town. Someone is not happy with his investigation and, if Will and Jonah continue to uncover secrets from the past, it may cost them their lives.

“If I Fall, If I Die,” is a rather unusual novel in that the main characters are both children and adults. Through flashbacks readers learn of Diane’s early life and her struggles against mental illness, while most of the book is centered around Will, Jonah and their friendship. It will give reader’s much to think about.

Recommended for High schoolers and Adults.

“Manroot” Anne Steinberg

Rated 1 star * ebook. 2014. Amazon Digital Services* (see note below)

ManrootIn the year 1939 Katherine and her father Jesse, who had been traveling the country seeking work, found themselves in the sleepy town of Castlewood alongside the Meramec River in Missouri. There they were taken in by Freda, the head cook of a local hotel, where Katherine soon found herself alone when Jesse decided to set off for greener pastures without her.

Katherine enjoyed working as a maid and became adept at discovering the healing properties of native plants and herbs, a skill inherited from her Navajo mother. Despite many superstitious tendencies regarding the river, animals and nature, Katherine thrived in her new environment. She was content until a barrage of emotions towards Judge William Reardon, a married man who frequented the hotel and local whorehouses, was unleashed. A strange magical quality seemed to exist between them, and their love for each other knew no bounds. Throughout their affair, Katherine felt a strange sense of foreboding but not even she could predict the future and how they would come to be inextricably bound in a web of love, deceit, hatred and fear.

I found “Manroot” at times to be rambling, forcing the reader to endure more information than was necessary as the author jumped from thought to thought. I didn’t quite get the significance of searching for, and finding, manroot nor why finding one that looked like a man seemed to be significant. In later chapters (even up until they grew up) the children we meet later in the book joined her in this search but the reasoning for it still escaped me.

In addition, Steinberg used stereotypical terms when she described Katherine as being “slender and agile” with “small breasts set high on her torso” then went on to say this was “unlike the soft cow-like appearance of many mature Navajo women.” I found this to be very insulting to Navajo women. Towards the end of the book one of the characters admitted to feeling shame because of how she’d thought Katherine was ignorant, when in fact she was quite intelligent, but this early statement by the author about Navajo women still gnawed at me.

She later went on to use the word “gypped” to describe someone being cheated out of something, an insult towards Gypsies, and I found both prejudicial examples to be quite distasteful. In addition her excessive use of exclamation points was very distracting. I lost track of how many she used in just the first chapter, all of which showed Steinberg could have used a good editor.

At times I did find myself wondering about Katherine’s children and how the future would play out for them but, overall, I didn’t like “Manroot.” However I will leave it up to you to decide if You Want to Read it or Not.

*NOTE: Though the author commented on another site that the book was not self published and was edited by the Publisher Headline Review in London, England, I still thought it needed editing.

“The view from who I was” Heather Seppenfield

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. To be published January 8, 2014. Flux.

TheViewFromWhoIWasOona Antunes hated her mom demanding life be perfect, and missed the father who was always away on business. Fascinated with water, as it reflected her own disappearing and despairing life, she kept a journal detailing water facts.

In the middle of a winter dance Oona split herself into two different people. The new “spirit self” became the narrator and, through her eyes, readers saw Oona leave the dance to freeze to death on a mountain trail.

When Oona awoke in the hospital, it was to the realization she had died for almost 20 minutes and had lost several fingers and toes, as well as part of her nose and cheek, to frostbite. While healing she realized the pain her attempted suicide had cost others, and attempted to set things right with them and with herself by Living with a capital “L.”

Part of her healing came about when she accompanied the school’s guidance counselor to a Native American School where she realized everyone’s sense of family and identity was something she wanted. Oona was sure her distant and unemotional father held the key to her family’s happiness, feeling she could help him to Live, but would soon find she had undertaken a task far greater than she had expected.

Through “The view from who I was” Seppenfield takes a look at suicide and its effects on those left behind. Oona’s raw and honest journey of self-discovery will resound with her readers.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“An Indigenous People’s History of the United States” Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Rated 5 stars ***** 2014. ebook. Beacon Press. Includes “Acknowledgements,” “Suggested Reading,” and “Notes.”

AnIndigenousPeoplesHistoryOfTheUnitedStatesUsing the premise that the United States’ history is one of “settler colonialism,” (wherein the settler participates in genocide and land theft), Dunbar-Ortiz discusses the reasons behind colonization of the land and the many atrocities committed to the indigenous people going back to pre-Revolutionary War days. The historical version of how the U.S. was settled, ingrained in everyone’s heads through television and history books, is shown to not only be false but blatantly biased.

The U.S. and its settlers wanted all indigenous people wiped off the face of the earth (so they could take their land), while later seeking to “kill the Indian to save the man” through the inhumane practice of stealing their children to place them into boarding schools. Despite all attempts at genocide and destruction, many nations managed to survive. “An Indigenous History of the United States” is a story of survival and truth.

I have long been upset with the colonial status of Puerto Rico wondering why, in the year 2014, the United States is still in the “owning of a colony” business. Despite the fact that almost 45% of the Island lives in poverty, and that the majority of Puerto Ricans voted for statehood in 2012, their colonial “owners” refuse to “let the people go.”

After reading about the land-grabbing, money making, “get rid of the Indian” mentality of the United States government and its people in this well-researched book, I can see why Puerto Rico has been so alone on its long, poverty-stricken road.

I can only hope that readers of Dunbar-Ortiz’s eye-opening book will help the Indigenous people with their fight to have ancestral lands returned, while also helping to free the people of Puerto Rico from their “owner.”

Highly recommended for Adult readers.

If I ever get out of here” Eric Gansworth

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic). 356 pp. (Includes “Playlist & Discography”.)

IfIEverGetOutOfHereIt is 1975, and Lewis desperately wants to fit in with his 7th grade classmates. Tracked into the smart classes of his junior high, he is separated from his reservation friends and shunned by his white classmates because he’s Aboriginal. He is hopeful a new student will arrive who will be his friend, and is rewarded when George, a military kid from the nearby Air Force base, shows up in class. Despite being warned that befriending Lewis would be a social disaster, the two become close friends sharing a love for The Beatles and Wings.

As the years pass, despite their closeness Lewis is not ready to share the poverty of his home with George, constantly making up excuses for why George can’t come visit. As Lewis spends more time with George and his parents in their home, he begins to question his own home life and poverty. His Uncle Albert warned him that once he tasted the white man’s way of life he’d now see his own in a different light. Lewis scoffed, but soon began feeling a mixture of pride for his status as a Tuscarora Indian and guilt for wanting that life to be better.

As he struggles to find his place in between the white man’s world and reservation life, Lewis’ days are filled with bullying, as he is tested in ways he’d never thought possible.

“If I ever get out of here” is a wonderful coming-of-age story, with incredible insight into reservation life and the race relations between Natives and whites. It should have a place in every middle and high school library.

Recommended for ages 12-15.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).

“Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America” Amy Belding Brown

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. ARC. To be published July 1, 2014. New American Library (Penguin Group). Includes “Author’s Note,” “A Conversation with Amy Belding Brown,” and “Questions for Discussion.”

FlightOfTheSparrowIn this extraordinary book, readers learn about Mary Rowlandson who was captured by a group of Indians after they raided her Massachusetts town in 1676. As a Puritan, she had been conditioned to fear, hate, despise and be otherwise prejudiced towards all things Indian. However Mary, now a slave of a female sachem, is expected to learn the ways of her Indian captives. She has no desire to live as a “savage” but, in time, comes to appreciate the Indian way of life.

Though forced to perform labor she found distasteful, her life as a slave was very different from the way she and her fellow Puritans treated their own African and Indian slaves. With freedom to roam, time to enjoy the wilderness she’d previously found scary, and the friendship of several Indians, Mary felt guilty for enjoying herself and is devastated to be ransomed back to Puritan life. Feeling half Indian, Mary finds life as a strait-laced Puritan to be more than she could bear.

Brown’s well-researched narrative shows the cruelty of the English Puritans towards their own and towards Africans and Indians who they considered “different.” She contrasts their behavior with the generosity and friendliness of the Indians who captured Mary. Metacomet (called King Philip by the English), the war that devastated his tribe, as well as important people from the time period all play important roles in Mary’s story.

A few years after her captivity, Mary wrote a narrative of her ordeal titled “The Sovereignty and Goodness of God” Though scholars hail it as an important work by a female which also solidified the way Puritans felt towards Indians, Brown believes Mary’s story was negatively rewritten by Increase Mather, an important Puritan preacher of the day, who inserted scripture and words to show the Puritan prejudicial point of view. Interestingly, the chapter on Rowlandson in “Women’s Indian Captivity Narratives” notes it cannot be proven he changed her narrative.

Recommended for Adult readers.