Sunday, June 18, 2006


News first: Sherman Alexie is working on a young adult novel. It will be published (scheduled for release in 2007) by Little Brown, and is titled The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. if you are unfamiliar with his work, take a look at his website:

I'm reading an old book by Lois Duncan, titled Season of the Two-Heart, published in 1964 by Dodd, Mead. I ordered it from a used book seller because it is about a Pueblo Indian girl who leaves her reservation to spend her senior year in Albuquerque to attend public school. She lives there with a white family. In return for room and board, she will take care of the two younger children (boys) and other chores (housekeeping and maybe some cooking).

There's some pretty outrageous passages. Duncan was trying to write a story about a girl in conflict who wants to leave her home for the white world. To do that, Duncan had to make Pueblo life unattractive and unappealing, and for readers, she had to create sympathy and support for the girl's decision. Here's one example:
"The nurse gave me some medicine," Natachu had said, "in a bottle. She says I am to put it on my head and on the heads of the babies. She says it will keep the little bugs from biting us."
And here's more in that thread:
"Medicine on your head!" Grandmother had been nearly beside herself with indignation. "First water and now medicine! Perhaps she would like you to cut off your head entirely! Medicine, indeed!"

"I've been using it for a couple of days now," Natachu had continued determinedly. "It works. My head hardly itches at all."

"Heads are supposed to itch," Grandmother had insisted. "It is the Great Spirit Himself who puts the little bugs there. If He did not wish us to have them. He would take them away Himself."

In the pages leading to this, the grandma (who is developed as a mean-spirited person who rules the family with an iron fist) objects to the indoor plumbing that was recently installed. She tells the family they are wasting water they'll need for drinking, and they should not use it on their faces and hands. Natachu has been washing her hair, and her grandmother says:
"See her hair; it is thinning already! All that water is washing the roots from her head."
I'm currently reading on page 37. The Boynton's (the family who takes her in) have a senior daughter named Laurie who resents having Natachu around. Laurie's character is developed as a popular, outgoing teenager who has all the latest clothes.

Duncan wrote this book 42 years ago. I wonder---do authors (like Duncan) go back and shudder when they read some of what they wrote? She, like any of us, is a product of our society. We are all socialized to think in certain ways about certain people, and whether we are aware of that socialization or not, it makes its way into what we say and do, often without our realizing it. Dirty Indians. That's what we have in Season of the Two-Heart.

No comments: