Saturday, September 27, 2014


Some weeks ago, a reader wrote to ask me about Anung's Journey: An Ancient Ojibway Legend As Told by Steve Fobister, by Carl Nordgren.

The first thing that caught my eye was the "as told by" part of the title. There are a lot of books published by non-Native writers... books in which the non-Native authors tells a story that was told to them by a Native person. There's some excellent critical discussion of that kind of book.

Second thing is the word "legend" in the title. People of any given faith don't call their traditional or creation stories legends. Native peoples don't do that either. Using 'legend' for a Native story is, for me, a red flag.

I got a copy of the book from Net Galley. I looked at the table of contents for a page of background information and found the author's note. But, it isn't a typical author's note. Instead, it is a letter to Steve Fobister. I wondered if Nordgren had sent the actual letter to Fobister, or if the letter in the book is the means by which Fobister will know that he figures prominently in Anung's Journey. The letter has several more red flags. Here's the opening:
Dear Steve,
When you told me the story of Anung I was immediately captured by the magic of it. When you asked me to popularize it, I was honored by your request. Where I have added to it, your magic has guided me.
I see that sort of thing a lot, too. Native people asking a white person to tell our stories. No--let me rephrase that. White people telling readers that a Native person asked them to tell this or that story. Invariably, that white author has spent some time with a Native community and finds us, well, as Nordgren says, "magical."

In his letter, Nordgren tells Steve about when they first met (at summer camp when they were 15 years old), and all that Steve taught him about fishing and Ojibway culture. He goes on to talk about how, when the two went fishing for the first time in 40 years, Steve told Nordgren the story of Anung:
You asked me to do my best to turn this legend into a full story that would delight and inform people of all ages and all cultures, and I promised you I would. I promised to work to get it published. And I promised that if Anung was published and widely read that, along with accomplishing your goals and fulfilling my promise, I would invest a share of the financial success back into the health of Grassy Narrows.
That is another red flag... the promise that the author will give some of his/her profits from the book to the tribe (in this case, one of the First Nations in Canada, Grassy Narrows.)

Are you wondering about the story?

Well here it is in a nutshell. An orphan boy named Anung goes on his vision quest and learns that he is supposed to find the greatest chief of all the First Nations. He sets out to do it, going east, east, east. He gets to the ocean where he meets a great chief that he thinks must be THE greatest chief, but that chief tells him that he's had a vision, too. In his vision, four young men would come to him and from them, one would be chosen to go across the ocean to find that greatest chief. Of course, Anung is chosen.

And he crosses the ocean, and keeps going, and finally he finds the greatest chief of all the nations. You know who it is, right? Baby Jesus in his manger.

Ancient Ojibway legend? I don't think so. 

I'm trying to get in touch with Steve Fobister. The title page for the book is different from the title on the cover. Inside, the words "based on" are added: Anung's Journey: Based on an ancient Ojibway legend as told by Steve Fobister. I'm really curious what part of this "ancient Ojibway legend" is Mr. Fobister's, and what part is Nordgren's creation.

With all those red flags, I cannot recommend Anung's Journey. 


Anung's Journey: An Ancient Ojibway Legend as told by Steve Fobister
by Carl Nordgren
Published by Light Messages Publishing
Release date: October 27, 2014

UPDATE, Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fobister was in the news over the summer. He was on a hunger strike to call attention to mercury poisoning in his community. See Steve Fobister Ends Hunger Strike.

UPDATE, Monday, September 29, 2014

A reader asked for more details about the letter. Here is a screen capture of it:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Neal Shusterman and Michelle Knowlden's UNSTRUNG

In 2009, Neal Shusterman launched the first of his "Unwind Dystology" series. The first book is Unwind. Published by Simon and Schuster, here's the synopsis provided at Amazon:
In America after the Second Civil War, the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life armies came to an agreement: The Bill of Life states that human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, a parent may choose to retroactively get rid of a child through a process called "unwinding." Unwinding ensures that the child's life doesn’t “technically” end by transplanting all the organs in the child's body to various recipients. Now a common and accepted practice in society, troublesome or unwanted teens are able to easily be unwound.
With breathtaking suspense, this book follows three teens who all become runaway Unwinds: Connor, a rebel whose parents have ordered his unwinding; Risa, a ward of the state who is to be unwound due to cost-cutting; and Lev, his parents' tenth child whose unwinding has been planned since birth as a religious tithing. As their paths intersect and lives hang in the balance, Shusterman examines serious moral issues in a way that will keep readers turning the pages to see if Connor, Risa, and Lev avoid meeting their untimely ends.

Unstrung: An Unwind Story came out in 2012. It is a short story. Here's what Amazon says about it:

How did Lev Calder move from an unwillingly escaped Tithe to a clapper? In this revealing short story, Neal Shusterman opens a window on Lev’s adventures between the time he left CyFi and showed up at the Graveyard.
Pulling elements from Neal Shusterman’s critically acclaimed Unwind and giving hints about what is to come in the riveting sequel, UnWholly, this short story is not to be missed.

As Unstrung opens, Lev is waking up after escaping from bad guys who were gonna do that unwinding thing to him. He's an AWOL. The place he ran to? A "rez" -- or, reservation. There, he figured he'd be safe. Indians of the future, it turns out, are exempt from unwinding. The family helping Lev recover is going to petition the Tribal Council to let him stay. As he opens his eyes, he seems a woman with a square jaw, black hair, and bronze skin. He blurts out
Lev is immediately embarrassed for using that word. See--in this future world Shusterman created, Indians aren't called Indians anymore. The woman responds (Note: I'm reading an ebook and can't give you page numbers):
"Old words die hard," she tells him with infinite understanding. "We were called Indians long after it was obvious we weren't from India. And 'Native American' was always a bit too condescending for my taste." 
"ChanceFolk," Lev says, hoping that his SlotMonger slur will quickly be forgotten.
"Yes," the woman says. "People of Chance. Of course the casinos are long gone, but I suppose the name still has enough resonance to stick." 

Dear! Well, that's not what I said when I read that part. If you're a regular reader of AICL, you know that sometimes, I curse at things I read.

Moving on...

The People of Chance family has a boy. He's three years older than Lev. His name is Wil. That's short for Chowilawu. We don't know what language that is, or what tribe these people belong to. Later on, we do get some clues about their location, though! They're in what we know today as Colorado, and they live in an incredibly opulent city with cliff dwellings on the canyon sides.

Do you know who lived at Mesa Verde? Chaco Canyon? Bandelier? Pueblo people! So, I take it that the People of Chance are somehow based on Pueblo Indians. Yikes!

Let's meet Wil.

Wil has a gift. When he plays his guitar, who or whatever hears his music, is transfixed. Just Wil's presence can calm people. But that guitar playing... well, it is such a gift that he/it is used to help the dying tribal members transition more easily into death itself. Wil doesn't like that gift, because his grandfather is dying. The people expect him to go play for his grandpa but he doesn't want to. When the story opens, Wil plays his guitar for Lev. He does that by sitting cross-legged on a mountain lion skin. Yep. Cross-legged. Cuz why?! (Answer: Indians sit cross-legged. You learned that at camp, right? Or maybe kindergarten? Or maybe your teacher knew better than to introduce that stereotype to you.)

Lev recovers a bit, and he and Wil go out into the city. Lev has a question:
"Is it true that reservations are safe for AWOLs?" he asks. "Is it true that People of Chance don't unwind?"
Wil nods. "We never signed the Unwind Accord. So not only don't we unwind, we also can't use unwound parts."
Lev mulls that over, baffled at how a society could work without harvesting organs. "So...where do you get parts?"
"Nature provides," Wil says. "Sometimes."
Nature provides! How does that work, you might wonder? Meet Wil's uncle, Pivane. Wil introduces Lev to him. He's wearing deerskins, but he's also got a Swiss watch on. And, Lev thinks, his rifle is probably custom-made. Pivane has been out hunting for a mountain lion. They need the heart of a male mountain lion. Pivane thinks they'll find one at Cash Out Gulch. (Reading "Cash Out Gulch" was another WTF moment for me.)

Here's where we get a picture of this place where the People of Chance live: cliff homes, the whitewashed adobes, and the sidewalks of rich mahogany planks. Although the place appears at first to be primitive, Lev knows upper crust when he sees it, from the luxury cars parked on the side streets to the gold plaques embedded in the adobe walls. Men and women wear business suits that are clearly Chance-Folk in style, yet finer than the best designer fashions."
Lev asks Wil what the people do (for a living) and Wil says:
"When my grandfather was a kid, the rez made a bundle--not just from gaming, but from some lawsuits over land usage, a water treatment plant, a wind farm that went haywire, and casinos we didn't want but got stuck with when another tribe rolled on us." He shrugs uncomfortably. "Luck of the draw. We've got it better than some tribes."
Lev looks down the street, where the curbs gleam with gold. "Way better, by the look of it."
"Yah," says Wil, looking both embarrassed and proud at the same time. "Some tribes did wise investing with their casino cash; others squandered it. Then, when the virtual casinos got ritzier than the real ones and it all came crashing down, tribes like ours did very well. We're a Hi-Rez. You're lucky you didn't jump the wall of a Low-Rez. They're much more likely to sell AWOLs to parts pirates."
Lev has heard about the rich tribes and the poor ones. Wil continues:
"Anyway," says Wil, "my tribe knows the law and how to use it. In fact my dad's a lawyer, and has done pretty well for our family. My mom runs the pediatrics lodge in the medical warren and is well respected. We get rich tribal kids from all over North America coming here for healing."
I was doing a lot of eye rolling and cursing as I read all of that! I certainly want writers to move away from narrow depictions of the professions Native people are in, but the rest of what Shusterman did is so bad that I can't give the lawyer-dad or doctor-mom characters a good read! Let's back up, though to that info about how the People of Chance tribe (I wonder what the Lo-Rez tribe names are?!) got their money: casinos, and good lawyers. I'm wondering about Shusterman's source material for all that lawyering. Where is he from? Is he living nearby a tribal nation that has been successfully winning legal cases over water rights? Or wind farms? Is he from Massachusetts? In 2011, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head filed a lawsuit over a wind farm project off Cape Cod. The For Mojave Indian tribe sued a California agency over a water treatment plant that was desecrating sacred land. I'm guessing that Shusterman did some research and found these news stories. And as the wealth of the People of Chance indicates, they won big time! Doesn't matter, I suppose, that those two particular tribal nations are at opposite ends of the country. With a made-up nation, you can do whatever you want!

Well, let's move on. The People of Chance have animal spirit guides. If/when they're sick, that particular animal can be killed and its body part(s) used to heal the human. Do you recall that Pivane is looking for the heart of a mountain lion? A mountain lion is the spirit guide of Wil's grandfather. His heart is bad. He needs a new one. Pavine finds one, but Wil's grandfather wants to give it to a young woman who needs it more than he does. Wil argues with him about that decision. But guess what! Lev gets asked for advice. Outsiders have perspectives, you see, that can help people make important decisions. Lev's advice is to respect the wishes of Wil's grandpa. Such wisdom from the white outsider! Of course, the heart goes to the woman, and Wil's grandpa dies.

Wil is gonna die, too. No... that's not right. He's going to be killed. No... that's not right either...

Wil has taken Lev and a bunch of kids out on a vision quest to find their spirit guides. Some of those parts pirates have gotten over the rez wall, too. Turns out, there's a black market for People of Chance body parts because they have special skills. To save the children, Wil takes out that guitar and demonstrates his gift. He bargains with the parts pirates. They take him and let the children go. I gotta say... this is so unsettling. Does Shusterman know Native bodies were butchered and parts taken from them as trophies? Has he not read about Sand Creek?! How 'bout his editor? Does he/she know? Do they know and not care? Or maybe they don't imagine Native people as readers of Unstrung?

Well. Towards the end of the story, the tribal council denies the petition to adopt Lev. He leaves. And what about Wil? We find him again, on a surgical table. A woman with a slight British accent tells him:
"We have been searching for the right Person of Chance for a very long time. You will be part of a spectacular experiment. One that will change the future." 
Pretty sick, isn't it? In the end, Wil's family and girlfriend find out that he's been unwound...
Not through smoke signals.
Not through the intricate legal investigations of the Council.
Not through the tribal nations' security task force, put in place after the parts pirates took him.
In the end, the rez finds out Wil is no more when his guitar is delivered with no note and no return address. 
Another WTF. Smoke signals?! Mr. Shusterman: this is a very messed up story. I regret having read it.

Update, September 28, 7:48 PM

Mr. Shusterman submitted the following comment. As has been the case with previous authors who respond to a review I've done on AICL, I'm adding the response to the body of the blog post to allow readers to more easily read the response. Mr. Shusterman said:

I wanted to personally apologize for anything in UnStrung that you found offensive. Both Michelle Knowlden and I wanted you to know that in writing the story we took great cares to be respectful, and sensitive. We also were wary of “political correctness,” which is just as offensive as stereotypes.

The story takes place in a dystopian future – and we were attempting to extrapolate where one tribe might find themselves within that exaggerated dystopian world. It could not be immune to the dark turn society has taken. Our take was that this particular tribe had become affluent, and increasingly isolationist – to protect itself ideologically from the rest of America, which had become a pretty unpleasant place. We tried to take tradition, and marry it to futurism. We actively worked to shatter stereotypes, breaking them open to show something real, and honest.

Huge amount of thought went into every choice, so to be called out for insensitivity warrants the opening of a dialogue. I have a reputation for being culturally fair, and on-target in my books – so if I’ve missed the mark here, it’s important to me to know how, and how to improve it.

I do want to point out that some things you found were stretches. A kid sitting cross-legged on the floor was just a kid sitting cross-legged on the floor. That’s how my daughter plays guiter, so that’s where that came from. It was not a racial stereotype.

It’s important to note that socially and culturally, American Indians are the heroes of the story. They are the only cultural group that collectively fights against the heinous practice of Unwinding, and maintains a high moral and ethical bar, that the rest of society has lost. The entire book series, in fact, hinges on their action in the face of a world mired in inaction.

UnStrung will be rewritten for inclusion in a collection of novellas in the Unwind world. We would love to discuss with you what changes will make it not only more palatable, but a positive experience for Indian readers. I can be reached at Thank you.

Debbie's response:

Mr. Shusterman,

Thank you for responding to my concerns. I am traveling this week and next and can't give your comment the attention it deserves. A quick note for now: I read a lot of children's and young adult books with Native characters. You'd be surprised, perhaps, to know how many of them sit cross-legged. Other characters in the book don't. They just sit. How they sit isn't generally noted. More, later, when I've had time to think about your comments. 
Update, Tuesday, Sept 30 2014

My review reflects my incredulous reaction as I read your book. You said it is important to know how you missed the mark, and how you can improve the story. I hope you'll find time to go back and re-read my review. I think I've clearly laid out examples in which you've missed the mark.

It is the overall premise, however, that is deeply flawed. You said that (quoting from your comment),
"American Indians are the heroes of the story... They maintain a high moral and ethical bar... The entire book series, in fact, hinges on their action..."
See that? You think you've done a good thing, making American Indians the heroes. You meant well... You are just like all those people/places/organizations that use American Indian something-or-other as an ideal to strive for. Big case in the news right now is the Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington DC pro football team. Are you following that at all? From my perspective, you sound an awful lot like Dan Snyder and you sound like a thousand people who've told me and other Native people "but you don't understand. I'm trying to honor you."

In her excellent piece for writers, Cynthia Leitich Smith posed a few questions that authors can use when reflecting on the Native characters they create. I'm modifying them a bit:

Is Wil a magical character? My answer: Yes, he has a musical gift. It is so magical that it will be taken from him to serve the greater good. Who is taking it? A British/American surgeon.

Does Wil die first? My answer: Yes. Lev lives on. Wil does not.

Are Wil's people the model minority? My answer: Yes. This is a bit more nuanced, but they've had great success economically and professionally.

Does his heritage inform his character?  My answer: Yes, and a bit complicated because his heritage is your creation and rests on stereotypical ways of thinking about Native peoples. It is, in other words, an outsider's take on Native culture, so it is hard for me to say that his heritage is, in fact, Native. It isn't. In her post, Smith also asks if non-Native readers will notice problems like this. Her answer is, "maybe." Mine? From what I've seen online, nobody noticed. Smith asks if Native readers will notice. My answer: Not necessarily, but most of them will. I think a good many Native readers will do a WTF. In fact, Native people with whom I've shared the review are also expressing incredulity.

What will your readers think of Wil and his people? My answer: Most of your readers will (and do) love Wil and his people. In her post, Smith goes on to say that sometimes, writers "get so wrapped up in our own intent, however benevolent, that we forget to consider impact." Clearly, you meant well. You had good intentions. But the impact of those good intentions? You're using your conception of Native people to save the world. In so doing, you affirm stereotypical ideas that are already deeply embedded in the world.

What did you read prior to creating this tribe and people? Your turn. What did you read? And, I invite your answers to the question above, too. I know you're doing a Q&A at Goodreads this week and may not have time to come back to AICL for the dialog you asked me for, but I do hope you come back as soon as you can. Your fellow writers, and my fellow reviewers, can gain a great deal by reading our dialog.

Update, Saturday, October 4, 2014

Neal Shusterman's reply, submitted at 11:05 PM October 3 2013:

Debbie – thank you for your detailed response. I appreciate the time you took to really analyze the story. Cynthia Leitich Smith’s questions are right on target.

Perhaps I overstated it when I said that the Indians are the heroes of the book series. The Indian characters are as flawed as everyone else, and struggle with their own moral dilemmas and ethical demons. I do not feel that any of my characters are stereotypes, regardless of their cultural background. As a group, the fictional tribe in the book makes both poor decisions, and good decisions. Ultimately they are one of many factors that changes the world for the better by the end of the book series. 

I do need to emphasize the fictional nature of the tribe. It is not intended to reflect current Indian culture. It is an exaggeration seen through a very specific future lens, just like every other culture portrayed in the book. Everything is painted in unsettling shades of gray -- the reader is supposed to have mixed feelings about everything and everyone. We should see the best and the worst of ourselves in the characters, and cultures.

You mentioned that other people had the same reaction you did when they read your review. I imagine so. A review is like the prosecution’s case in a trial. It’s all very cut and dry if you don’t hear the defense. The defense is the actual work, and I stand behind my work. That said, there are some things I would, and will change, however, and I thank you for bringing it to my attention.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Heather Sappenfield's THE VIEW FROM WHO I WAS

A colleague, Trish, wrote to ask me if I'd seen Heather Sappenfield's The View From Who I Was. She said it is set at a place called American Indian Preparatory School, modeled on the Native American Preparatory School. Trish didn't know it, but that school means a lot to Native people.

I had not heard of the book, so looked it up and saw that an ARC (advance reading copy) was available at Net Galley (anyone can sign up to read ARC's via Net Galley). The View From Who I Was is due out in January. The description of the book is unsettling. Here's the first paragraph:
Sometimes the end is just the beginning At Crystal High's Winter Formal, Oona Antunes splits in two. Her disembodied spirit watches as her body leaves the dance and tries to freeze to death. Three days later, she wakes in the hospital missing fingers and toes, burdened with the realization of what she's done to her mother and father.

But it was the second paragraph that got my attention:

When her school counselor invites Oona to join him at a Native American school, she becomes immersed in a foreign world where witches, talking rocks, and minor deities are reality. Oona discovers that if she is to heal, her father must also heal. But are his problems more than they can handle?

NAPS was, and is, a special place to us. Located near Santa Fe (remember--I'm from Nambe Pueblo, which is near Santa Fe), it was designed to provide gifted Native high school students with a culturally supportive education from which they would go on to college. I know people who worked there, and I know students who went there, too. I started reading, making notes as I went.

Far too often, Native people--or some semblance of Native people--are used by people who care only for their romantic notions of who we are. Mascots, of course, are one example.

In the Acknowledgements, Sappenfield says she went to NAPS twice. Those visits weren't enough to give her a meaningful or grounded respect of who we are... In The View From Who I Was, there are a lot of romantic notions that ultimately serve as the turning point in the protagonist's life.

I hate that NAPS and kids there were used 
by Sappenfield for this book. 
It feels like a violation. The school and 
kids are only a magical device that 
serves the white protagonist. 

Soon after learning about the book, I learned that the description at Net Galley is an old one that no longer describes the book. Frankly, I was relieved. But when I read the book, the description at Net Galley (also at Amazon and GoodReads) struck me as accurate. There is stuff about witches, and there's a talking rock...

As indicated, I read an ARC (advanced reading copy), which--in theory--means that there is still time for the author to revise. However, I think the errors indicate a fundamental lack of understanding, knowledge, and respect that would prevent the book from being revised in such a way that it would be ok.

After reading the ARC, I talked with a former NAPS teacher and student. The student, in particular, was troubled by how the school and teachers are misrepresented. It was special to her. Since her time there, she said, there's been nothing written about it. She hates that this book, with these errors, might be the first thing about the school that people read.

Here's my notes on the parts of the books that are about Native people/culture, with my thoughts in italics. I've included comments from the student (C) and the teacher (A).

You'll see places where I use "Oona/Corpse" and "Hovering Oona" when I'm talking about the protagonist. It is a bit confusing overall. The protagonist's name is Oona. As the book opens, Oona's spirit splits in two. The part that stays in her body is called "Corpse" by the part that left her body and hovers nearby. The story is told to us by the part of her spirit that hovers. Hovering Oona has control over whether or not Oona/Corpse is going to express or act on emotions. Oona/Corpse isn't aware of the Hovering Oona.

p. 14
Murial (Oona's mom) likes to decorate their swanky home in Colorado using Native artifacts. There's a peace pipe, kachinas, moccasins. 

Wondering about the back story for these items. I wonder where Oona's mom got them? She could have gotten them online, but those would be fakes. I wonder if Oona's mom knows about the American Indian Arts and Crafts Act? (Note to readers: Do go read that act. It is important and protects consumers from fraud, and, it also protects Native artists for whom their art is their livelihood.) 

p. 16
Prior to the suicide attempt, Oona is with Mr. Handler (her school counselor) at a school leadership conference. They're at a session put on by Native students from the American Indian Preparatory School. The school counselor has spent time at the school prior to this. In the session, a Native guy with a crew cut introduces Dr. Benson, who is the school's "flute master." He plays the flute to open their session. 

It is plausible that there would be someone on flute opening a session, but not probable that the school would have a "flute master." Pop-culture tells us that when you have Indians, you gotta have flute music. They kind of go together in white peoples minds. Though many Native nations use flutes, they're over-used by outsiders who want to signal "Indian" to an audience. Invariably, it gives people goosebumps (as it does to Oona). Flutes used that way are even the butt of jokes amongst us. Having it open this conference presentation made me shake my head. It appears later, too, in a gathering at the school. I asked C (student) about it. She said they'd have morning openings each day where announcements were made. Someone would pray in their Native way, but no music. 

The row of Native students sits with bowed heads. 

Not clear if they were sitting that way when the flutist was playing (as though it is a prayer), or, if they are sitting that way as the Navajo girl is introduced and speaking. Bowed heads suggests a prayerful moment, but overall it doesn't sound right to me.  

p. 17
The Native guy with the crewcut introduces a Navajo student, Angel Davis, who is "of the Fort Defiance Navajo" and then Angel takes the stage and starts talking. 

Generally speaking, a Navajo person takes care (in presentations) to introduce themselves according to fairly standard protocols. See the first few minutes of this video for an example. At conferences, those first few minutes would be followed by a translation (into English) of what was just said. Angel doesn't use the protocol before moving into her very-Indian presentation. 

Angel's presentation is about five feathers she has with her on stage. She talks about how she got each one:
Angel's speech was slow, yet soft, lilting: "I hold in my hand five feathers." She held up her hand and out the sides of her fist were the ends of long feathers. "Gifts from my grandfather. From his headdress. An eagle feather for each good thing I've done." Angel read about each of those good things: graduating middle school, helping her brother when he had mono, attending the American Indian Preparatory School, far from home, completing a summer writing program, even farther away. She ended with reading at this conference. She didn't candy-coat things, she just described how each challenge she didn't want to do at first, and after, her grandfather would call her out behind their house, place his hand on her shoulder, tug a feather from his headdress, and give it to her.
There's a lot wrong with that passage. First, headdresses are not part of traditional Navajo attire. They are worn primarily by Plains tribes. As written, it sounds like Angel's grandfather wears it all the time, or, that he put it on to do this feather-giving-ceremony where he takes a feather out of his headdress. It doesn't work at all. When a Native person is given a feather to mark an accomplishment, it isn't taken from an existing headdress. And, when feathers are given, it (or how it is done) generally isn't something they talk about to outsiders in the way Angel does. It is possible, but not plausible. 

p. 18/19
Oona listens to the next speaker who talks about his "costume" with its "fringe, beads, and feathers" and how he goes to powwows, where he dances for his grandma and his ancestors. Oona thinks "Was he kidding? The guy wore a white Oxford shirt with short sleeves and a tie." 

It isn't likely that he would have said "costume" or "fringe, beads, and feathers." He would more likely have said "regalia." He does the powwow circuit, it sounds like. He dances for his grandma and ancestors. Dancing for his grandma and ancestors sounds right to me. Does Oona think he can't be legit because he's wearing a shirt and tie? Or, is she being snarky about who he dances for? Either way, there's also a feeling that these kids are richer than Oona, with all her material wealth, is.    

p. 93
Mr. Handler invites Oona/Corpse to go with him to the Native American school, where she can help juniors fill out college applications. (Later, we'll learn that her help is specific to navigating websites.) 

That sounded ok to me, but when I was talking with C about the book, she asked me what Oona was going to do at the school. I told her, and she laughed, saying they were tech savvy and didn't need help like that. 

p. 99
Murial says that she wanted to be anthropologist because she loves Indians. 

That love-of-Indians is pretty widespread and as such, is the subject of much writing amongst Native people. Three resources to read/listen to are Kate Shanley's article, "The Indians Americans Love to Love and Read" , Vine Deloria Jr.'s Custer Died For Your Sins--especially the chapter on anthropologists, and Floyd Red Crow Westerman's Here Come the Anthros, based on Deloria's chapter. 

p. 103/104
More flute music. It appears several times throughout the story. 

See comments about page 16.

p. 108
Oona/Corpse is with Mr. Handler. They're approaching the grounds at the Native school. Before they get there, she sees faded house trailers (one with plywood covering window) and rusted out cars.
Two Indian kids scampered around out front, one in just a diaper, the white of it against this world, against his skin, seemed unreal.
How does protag know those are Indian kids? The school is not on a reservation. The community by it is not Native either. That the two kids "scampered" also stands out. Animals scamper. Little kids, too, the dictionary says, but given the overwhelming associations of Indians-as-animal-like, seeing it here gives me pause.

p. 111
At the school, Oona/Corpse is greeted by Louise, who is "a stout, toffee-tinted woman in a purple broom skirt and a white blouse." She has ebony hair that she wears in a bun that is clasped with a beaded barrette. 

I didn't note what words Sappenfield used to describe skin tones of Oona's mother or Mr. Benson, or Ashley (her friend at school).  Later on, Angel is going to ask Oona if she is part Native (Angel says "an urban Indian") because Oona's skin tone is olive. Of late, there have been several discussions online about words used for skin tones, when and how they're used, and who is using them.

p. 112
Back in the car, Mr. Handler and Oona/Corpse drive to the part of campus where their rooms are. As they drive, she sees "a white woman in a blouse and jeans and an Indian man with a long braid...". 

How does she know the woman is white? Oona's assumption is that all Indians have darker skin and hair, so this woman must be white. That is an incorrect assumption. Later, Angel and Oona have a conversation about skin tones. 

p. 113
Mr. Handler tells Oona/Corpse he's there to help counsel the kids at the school:
They're the kids who want to go on to college. These are not your average Native American kids." 
He backs off from that statement, saying
"Scratch that. They're just kids. Trying to figure things out. Like you."
I'm glad he backed off but what did he back off from? Did he mean that an average Native kid doesn't want to go to college? I really don't know what to make of that exchange.  

They park the car and get out. A "flock" of Indian students approach. 

I can't recall what words author used to describe groups of kids at Oona's school in Colorado. Was flock used there, too? Problem with flock is similar to scamper.

p. 114
A boy greets Mr. Handler by calling him "Lone Ranger." And then:
"He no sabe," another one said, and they all laughed. 'No know,' I realized; Tonto had been disrespecting that white-masked man, and I'd never had a clue.
That doesn't make sense to me. The line Tonto uses is "kemo sabe" -- not 'he' or 'no'. Sappenfield wants us to think that Tonto was saying "he no sabe" and as such, was dissing the Lone Ranger. Does Sappenfield now know what Tonto said? Am I missing something myself?! 

That part aside, the banter between the kids and Mr. Handler is easy going and reflects relationships I've seen between Native kids and white teachers and staff who have established a warm relationship.

p. 119
Oona/Corpse and Mr. Handler go to dinner and sit with the staff and teachers. Oona/Corpse is introduced to Dr. Yazzie, the headmaster. He is the guy Oona/Corpse saw earlier--the one with the braid:
Now Corpse saw the symmetry of his forehead, cheeks, and chin, a honey-tinted movie-star face, smooth but for creases at his eyes.
Ok. A super handsome dude. Yazzie, by the way, is a Navajo name. 

As they eat, Dr. Yazzie tells Mr. Handler:
"You know the statistics, Perry. Half of them can't handle the college world and drop out."
Mr. Handler asks about students. Davina has done ok. Louise posits that Davina's aunt has been a good role model for her. That aunt is a sergeant on the Navajo police force. When Mr. Handler asks about Cindy, Louise replies:
"Her father died." Louise's mouth, which arced down naturally, stretched down in a real frown. "Her mother had to get a job, so Cindy went home to help out with the kids."
"Poor girl," Mr. Handler said. "She was so smart."
Louise nodded. "Yes, a waste. Her father's death was a waste too. Put his truck in the ditch. Drunk. Tried to walk home on a frigid night. They found him sitting, frozen, at the entrance to their driveway. Apparently neighbors were driving past, waving."
A laugh burst from Ms. Cole. "Sorry. I hadn't heard that last part."
I found that conversation troubling. It is plausible that Louise would think "waste" but it isn't plausible. The teachers and staff at NAPS were especially supportive of Native culture and values. That a Native kid would step up to help her family would not be characterized as a waste. That neighbors drove past and waved at the body of Cindy's dad... Is that plausible?! It strikes me as incredibly offensive to imagine, let alone share, or laugh at. Louise and Ms. Cole strike me as horrible people. When I told C (student) and teacher (A) about this, they both felt that this was a misrepresentation of the teachers and staff. It strikes me as a 'fit' with government boarding schools were the framework for them was "kill the Indian and save the man" but definitely does not fit with NAPS. A quick note about Louise's mouth, which "arced down naturally" -- Angel's does, too. Weird. 

Mr. Handler then asks about Roberta:
Louise laughed. "She skipped that summer internship you arranged at the hospital. Didn't even call to let them know."
Louise goes on to say that Roberta is 18 years old now, and
"She took a job as a stripper instead. Still goes back and works weekends. Calls herself Destiny."
Mr. Handler scans the cafeteria and sees Roberta. Oona/Corpse sees her "shapely back". The next line is Hovering Oona's voice:
I had an image of Roberta in a string bikini, slithering along a pole over an audience of salivating men, some hungrily waving dollar bills.
That is another very troubling part of the book. Why did Sappenfield create this particular characterization for Roberta?! 

Hovering Oona looks at the kids in the cafeteria and thinks
these weren't the people we'd imagined inhabiting that flute music. The ones who'd made us feel poor. Maybe the bullshit had been those conference readings.
Ok... so Roberta is meant to humanize Native people?! 

p. 122 
Closing out this scene in the story, Mr. Handler says that he's read statistics (about Native people), but that "the reality is a lot harder to swallow." 

So--the reality is one girl who has done well, one who has gone home, and one who is a stripper? 

Dr. Yazzie, studying Oona/Corpse, puts his hand in his pocket.

It seemed an odd detail at that moment. Later, we learn that he keeps a rock in that pocket. It talks to him. 

After dinner, Oona/Corpse and Mr. Handler head to their rooms. As he says goodnight to Oona, she sees him swallow and his Adam's apple goes up and down. Oona/Corpse wants to say she's sorry about those kids, but she doesn't, because Hovering Oona stops her. 

p. 124-129
Early morning, Oona/Corpse goes out on a trail where she'll get cell phone reception. She calls her boyfriend. After the call, Angel comes along the same trail. She tells Oona that she's "greeting the sun." As she goes on her way, she calls back "I dreamed of you three nights ago." 

p. 130
Angel asks Oona if she's "an urban Indian" who is "from the city" and that "maybe doesn't know traditions, Indian ways." Surprised, Oona asks Angel how she could be Indian (appearance-wise). Angel tells her there's "a lot of mixed-blood or northern Indians here that don't look Indian." 

That is an interesting passage. I'm glad to see appearance being addressed. 

p. 131 
Angel tells Oona/Corpse about photographers that want photos of kids who look Indian. She also talks about how people like to visit Indians to "feel like they've done a good deed or something."

Another interesting passage, and accurate. It is ironic, too. It demonstrates that Sappenfield is able to have her characters speak to outsider use of Native people for their own benefit, but, with the way she uses Native culture in her book, doesn't understand that she's doing precisely that with this book.

p. 132
As they talk, Angel looks at Hovering Oona on Corpse's shoulder. 

As the book progresses, we learn that Angel and Dr. Yazzie can see Hovering Oona. And, in a passage that returns to imagery of Roberta as a pole dancer, Roberta walks through Hovering Oona's spirit and has a reaction that tells us that she, too, has ability to sense Hovering Oona. That makes them mystical or magical. It might seem cool a lot of people, but it plays on stereotypes! Not ok. 

p. 137
Oona/Corpse goes up the trail behind the school and comes upon Angel, kneeling in a clearing. Oona gets behind a branch and watches Angel, who is chanting. She turns north, west, south, and east. She rises and calls out to Oona that she doesn't have to hide, and asks her if she's spying on her. Oona says that, in addition to wanting to know more about the dream, she wanted to see what greeting the sun was. Oona asks Angel why she does it, and Angel says it is "showing him I'm ready for the day. And worthy."

That is unsettling. I understand that curiosity, but honestly, it is creepy and voyeuristic. I'm curious about the back story for it. What is Sappenfield's source? Is that something a Navajo girl or person actually does? Is it accurate? Is her source the Navajo girl she named in the Acknowledgements at the back of the book? Did she see that girl praying? Did she ask that girl if she could join her? 

If yes, there's a huge power dynamic in that request, and it is entirely inappropriate. In universities, there are research protocols that do not allow vulnerable populations (youth) to give permissions like that because they don't have the experience/knowledge/wherewithal to say no. Increasingly, tribes are asking writers to go through similar tribally-based protocols when they are there for research purposes for stories. I'm pretty sure NAPS administrators would not have given the author permission to do this. 

p. 139
Angel and Oona talk for a while. Oona tells Angel that she had tried to kill herself. Angel nods, saying
"I thought you looked like you'd been dead."
This is another manifestation of the stereotypical mystical Indian who sees and knows things...  

p. 142
At breakfast Oona/Corpse asks Angel what she saw that made her think that Oona had been dead. Angel shrugs her shoulders and looks at Hovering Oona. Oona/Corpse says 
"If I'd said I was an urban Indian, would you tell me?"
Angel's face hardens and she gets ready to leave. Oona presses her, asking if she can join her to greet the sun. Angel sighs and asks "Do I have a choice?" Oona/Corpse seems to be developing an awareness of Hovering Oona.

With Oona's question, it seems to me that Sappenfield knows that there are things that are guarded. The way she handles all the spirituality in the story tells me that she doesn't care about anything that Angel or Native people might be guarded about. 

After Angel leaves, Oona overhears two white teachers talking. One says that teaching there has 
"been a wild ride, and I've never been able to forget, even for a minute, that I'm an outsider."
She goes on to talk about her first week at the school, when a girl went to her room (teachers live on campus): 
"...whimpering about witches in her room. It was the middle of the night, for God's sake, and I tried to calm her. I mean, witches? I eventually got her to sleep, she spent the night in my room, and in the morning she seemed fine. At lunch Yazzie took me aside. Apparently I'd handled it all wrong. Made a fool of myself. When a student has witches in her dorm room, you inform Yazzie immediately, and they call a medicine man to come purify it."
 Ah! There's the part about witches that the blurb on Net Galley refers to! 

The two teachers commiserate about feeling like outsiders.  

Similar to the question about Angel's prayer, I'm curious about the source for this part about witches and medicine men.

p. 145/146
The next morning, Oona/Corpse joins Angel in her greeting of the sun. Though she moves in the same ways that Angel does, she isn't listening to Angel. Her thoughts are about her parents, her suicide, and her dad, in particular. She whispers to Hovering Oona and seems to be gaining insights into her family dynamics and her own well-being.

Again: what is the author's source for the way that Angel is shown in her movements? Turning to N/S/W doesn't jibe with what I know of the greeting that Navajos do at dawn. Some nations do have a directional greeting. In this part of the story, readers assume the voyeuristic gaze that Corpse had earlier. As a Native woman, this part makes me uncomfortable. I don't think author imagined a Native reader, or Native views on exploitation of Native spirituality.

p. 150
Dr. Yazzie talks with Oona/Corpse, telling her that it looks like she's had a hard time. She says "Don't tell me you can see I've died."  He says that it isn't hard to see, and then nods towards her shoulder where Hovering Oona is perched. He tells her:
"I have a rock in my pocket. It speaks to me." 
"It tells me you're a good person. That you're going to be ok." 
Clearly, Dr. Yazzie is a mystical Indian, too. This is the talking rock of the Net Galley blurb.

p. 154
Corpse goes to "Circle" which is a gathering that happens once a week. Mr. Handler sits beside her. She tells him about Dr. Yazzie's rock. They're seated in chairs arranged in a circle. Dr. Yazzie comes in and sits on the floor in the center of the circle. Dr. Benson (the flute master) rises from his chair and plays. All heads are bowed. Corpse gets goosebumps and then comes fully aware of Hovering Oona's view, and how Hovering Oona "constantly reasoned, doubted, judged" Oona. Oona/Corpse whispers to Hovering Oona that she has to stop. Oona/Corpse reaches to her chest, to the "slice" through which Hovering Oona had left at the start of the story. Hovering Oona darts down and enters but doesn't like it in there and takes off again. When the lights come back up, everyone is staring at Oona. 

Oona is definitely healing, and it is due in large part to these mystical Indians and their flute music. My guess it that people will dismiss my concerns. Overall, I can hear them say, this is a book about healing from suicide. How that happens, to them, doesn't matter. It reminds me of so many books. Cole in Touching Spirit Bear is healed thru similar Indian ways. In that story, he comes to terms with his bullying behavior. It is top of many lists about bullying. The stereotyping of Native people doesn't matter to people who are intent on using the book with bullies.  People are staring at Oona, we'll learn later, because they saw Hovering Oona.

p. 164
Another mealtime. Oona/Corpse is sitting with the kids, where they are talking about William's time at a summer camp at Harvard. People said to him "I didn't know Indians wore normal clothes." Oona says "Seriously? You believe they knew that little about Indians? That's impossible."

It is odd that Oona is incredulous. Recall she was wondering about the kid at the conference who was in a shirt and tie? That aside, her remark is interesting given what she says next about mascots.

The conversation moves to a discussion of the Washington DC pro football team mascot, the Cleveland Indians logo, and, the Chiefs. William says "Headdresses? Just feathers are religious for us." They laugh, and Corpse laughs with them but thinks to herself that it isn't funny at all, and wonders why she never noticed these things before. 

Not having noticed problems with mascots before sounds a lot like the person at Harvard who wondered about Indians wearing normal clothes. It is hard to know just what to make of the things that Oona thinks and says.   

p. 178
Oona/Corpse tells Angel there's no water there, but Oona tells her there is, under their feet. She goes on:
"In Navajo tradition, we have Tonenili. He's responsible for rain, sleet, and snow. He also causes thunder and lightning. Often at ceremonies he's there in a costume of spruce branches, playing the part of a clown. He sprinkles water around. Especially during night chants. Maybe he's been speaking to  you, trying to heal you."

This, I think is the "minor deity" of the Net Galley blurb.  I'm doubtful that Angel would have told Corpse that much detail about Tonenili, but as before, what is the source for this? That the word "costume" is used makes me think that the source might be an anthropology text written by an outsider. 

p. 183
At breakfast, Oona/Corpse is with Angel. Oona sees Dr. Yazzie with his hand in his pocket and starts wondering to herself about the rock. Angel says "What?" Oona says "nothing."

Does Angel's "what" to Corpse suggest that Angel can hear her thoughts? Maybe Oona was not wondering to herself. Maybe she was actually speaking her thoughts aloud. 

p. 185
Angel and Oona/Corpse go for a hike. Oona asks Angel about the girl who had a witch in her room and learns that the room she is in was that girl's room. Oona asks Angel:
"A medicine man cleansed my room?"
Angel nodded.
"Does that stuff linger? Like could his power cleanse me?"
Angel seemed to sort out her thoughts in the road ahead of them. "When you first came here, you scared me," She looked over her shoulder, right at me [Hovering Oona]. "I worried you might have the ghost sickness and you might take me with you."
"Me? Is a ghost like a witch? Is that what that girl saw? Is that why everyone was staring at me?
"It's complicated. It's not good to talk about these things. They have power."
"Do you think a medicine man could cure me? My hands and feet have been tingling since Circle."
Angel tells her that she doesn't think Oona needs a medicine man anymore because she's healing herself. 

I don't know where to start in analyzing that conversation. Angel shares information but also says it isn't good to talk about these things. She's right--Native peoples guard some things very carefully, but she chose to share some of it with Oona. Lucky for Oona! As before, I wonder about Sappenfield's source for this material. 

p. 185 
On their hike, Angel holds out an eagle feather to Oona and says:
"This is for all the things you've survived."
No! Angel can't legally give Oona an eagle feather. It is illegal for people who are not Native to have eagle feathers. Info here:  This law is info 101 to Native people, and especially those who would be at NAPS.


At that point, I stopped taking notes. I did read it, all the way to the end. Though the book goes on for another hundred-plus pages, the story location shifts when Mr. Handler and Oona leave the school. They were there for one week. Angel and William return at the very end, at Oona's graduation. 

There's more analysis to do--the depictions of Gabe (Oona's boyfriend) and the family maid (she's Mexican), and the use of Spanish in various places. Some of it doesn't sound quite right to me. I'll close this post with something I said earlier:

I hate that NAPS and kids there were used 
by Sappenfield for this book. 
It feels like a violation. The school and 
kids are only a magical device that 
serves the white protagonist. 

It isn't "just fiction" that Sappenfield, or any writer is doing, when they write a story. Some fictions affirm existing stereotypes. Some create new problems for Native people to deal with. It doesn't have to be that way. Writers---you can do better. Editors---so can you! 

Last: If something I've said is unclear (or if there are typos!), do let me know. I welcome your question, corrections, and comments.  

Editor's Note: The original post for this review had an error in the title. This is a reposting of the review with the correct title (the word 'where' was replaced with 'who').