Monday, February 05, 2007

Sharon Creech's WALK TWO MOONS

[Note: This review is used with permission of its author, Beverly Slapin. It may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.]
Creech, Sharon, Walk Two Moons. New York: HarperCollins (1994). 280 pages; grades 5-up; Seneca

This is a poignant story revolving around two friends—Phoebe Winterbottom and Salamanca Tree Hiddle—whose mothers have disappeared, and the journey Salamanca makes with her grandparents to find her mother. The protagonists, Sal and Phoebe, are well developed as very bright 13-year-olds with overactive imaginations. Sal’s goofy grandparents, too, are well drawn, as are some of the minor characters—such as Mrs. Cadaver, whom Sal and Phoebe suspect is an axe murderer; and Mr. Birkway, the hyperactively joyful English teacher with no sense of privacy.

This beautifully written and compelling story is deeply flawed by the “Indian” material that is thrown together with no cultural or historical context and really has nothing to do with anything actually Native. Neither does Salamanca, although frequently referring to her “Indian blood,” and constantly repeating the overdone maxim about “walking two moons in another man’s moccasins.” (In chapter 44, the phrase is actually used nine times in four pages!) Most of what she says—such as that she was given her name because her parents didn’t realize that the name of the “Indian tribe to which my great-great-grandmother belonged” was actually “Seneca”—is ridiculous.

When Sal and her grandma discuss whether to use the term “Native American” or “Indian,” she recalls her mother saying that “Indian sounds much more brave and elegant” and that the “Indian-ness” in their background made them “appreciate the gifts of nature” and makes them “closer to the earth.” Does the author really think that there is some kind of a genetic Indian-earth-nature connection?

There are episodes involving cross-cultural “legends,” casual smoking and sharing of “peace pipes,” someone referring to himself as an “American Indian person” (as compared to an American Indian chair?), and a dance described this way:
The Indians had formed two circles, one inside the other, and were hopping up and down. The men danced in the outer circle and wore feather headdresses and short leather aprons. On their feet were moccasins, and I thought again about Phoebe’s message: Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins. Inside the circle of men, the women in long dresses and ropes of beads had joined arms and were dancing around one older woman who was wearing a regular cotton dress. On her head was an enormous headdress, which had slipped down over her forehead. I looked closer. The woman in the center was hopping up and down. On her feet were flat, white shoes. In the space between drum beats, I heard her say, “Huzza, huzza.”
One wonders why the author did this; perhaps she wanted an “Indian” title and needed to make some kind of a context for it. Although Creech’s characterizations are excellent, the way she manipulates the characters—and the child reader—is inexcusable. Not recommended.
—Beverly Slapin


Anonymous said...

Yes, I did indeed wonder about and feel disturbed by how American Indians were represented in this book of FICTION, and that's an important point to remember in reading it; it is FICTION. but it's fiction that's gone too far into a very unrealistic, fantasy world--to the point of subtly sneering at American Indians and very much so stereotyping them, I felt. I couldn't find the main character someone to whom I could relate--a lot of show and no go here, and one wonders, very much, what reviewers are thinking to give the writing of this author so much acclaim.

It is not just that we can write well enough to move and even change the hearts and minds of others; it is also IN WHAT DIRECTION our writing moves and changes others that is equally important. If it is not in a positive direction of increased understanding of others, then I say the writing fails big time.

opal said...

This book is used in AP and PreAP trainings hosted by the College Board in Texas and probably other states as well. When I took my AP training, we were all told to bring this book and it was used as a major teaching piece with lessons revolving around it provided to all of the participants. I never used the book in the classroom, but it seems likely that it is being taught in PreAP classes using those lessons.

Charles Hatfield said...

to the point of subtly sneering at American Indians

I don't see this. It is true that Creech engages in some Noble Savage stereotyping, all meant to be affirmative and Romantic of course, but the emphasis is very much on the protagonist's self-described status as a "country girl" who has been removed from her country life and thrust into new and unfamiliar circumstances. At no point do I see "sneering" in the text. Granted, Creech makes some pointed comments about the way we talk about American Indians, or Native Americans (that issue of labeling is the subject of a sidelong treatment in one of the chapters). This might be construed as insensitive, or it might be view as brave. YMMV.

I couldn't find the main character someone to whom I could relate...

That's fair. But notice how this very personal criticism shades over into a sweeping, all-condemning ideological critique of the book. To me this kind of all-or-nothing dismissal of a book is a very blunt instrument.