Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Missed Opportunity in Cynthia DeFelice's FORT

The L.A. Times  released their Summer Reading Guide earlier today. I glanced at the Kids list. I'm thrilled to see Engle's Enchanted Air on it, and Older's Shadowshaper, too. I found much to love in both of those books.

I noticed Fort by Cynthia DeFelice on the list, too. Fort? That's one of the story lines that often trades on stereotypes of American Indians. Does DeFelice do that? I don't know. I haven't read her book. From the synopsis, it doesn't sound like it has anything to do with Native peoples:
In this boys-will-be-boys summer story about friendship and revenge, eleven-year-old Wyatt and his friend Augie aren't looking for a fight. They're having the best summer of their lives hanging out in the fort they built in the woods, fishing and hunting, cooking over a campfire, and sleeping out. But when two older boys mess with the fort--and with another kid who can't fight back--the friends are forced to launch Operation Doom, with unexpected results for all concerned, in this novel about two funny and very real young heroes.

Curious, though, I ran the "look inside" search on Amazon, using "Indian" and found this on page 74:

The set up for that passage is this: the boys are hunting squirrels. They have to be very still. Flies land on one of the boys and he wants to swat at the one that lands on his nose. That's when he thinks about that movie. In the next paragraph, he sees that ants are crawling on him. The third paragraph starts out "It seemed like a long time went by." Finally a squirrel comes by and the story shifts to hunting.

Did that passage about Indians and ants need to be in the story? What does it add? When I read "a movie" in that excerpt above, I started looking for such a movie. I found lots of references to an episode in Sons of Anarchy when the "Wahewa" Indians bury a man up to his neck and let ants crawl all over him. I'm sure there's similar scenes in old western flicks.

But regardless of what movie that scene is in, what does it add to this story?

If I was editing the manuscript, I think I'd have suggested that the author cut that paragraph and the next one. She could go from being still (paragraph before that one with the Indian movie reference) to the one that started out "It seemed like a long time went by."

I titled this post "a missed opportunity" because another option to address that excerpt is that the author could have inserted stupid so that the excerpt reads "I sat as quietly as I could, remembering a stupid movie I saw..." or another sentence at the end, such as "That was a stupid movie. When are movie makers going to stop making movies like that?!"

Lest you be tempted to say "it is one line" -- please think about all the "one lines" about Indians there are in children's books, in movies, in songs, in grocery store items, in video games, on athletic team gear... It adds up! Those one lines introduce inaccurate information and reinforce inaccurate information, too.

Fort, published in 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, is not recommended.


Margarita Engle said...

Thank you for posting this, Debbie!

Anonymous said...

I think it adds to the torture they felt having to sit so still. Just mentioning that time passes doesn't convey the same sense.

Debbie Reese said...

Sitting still as torture... ok. Any thoughts on how to keep that idea without stereotyping Native people?

Ellen Fleischer said...

Maybe have him remember seeing this show on DVD (around the 6 minute mark)?

Jean Mendoza said...

Or the protagonist could have remembered overhearing a family story in which the teller (great-grandparent?)had to hunker down to escape notice, and discovered that he (or she) had done so in an ant's nest?