Sunday, August 23, 2015

Chapter-by-chapter notes on Erin Bowman's VENGEANCE ROAD

I'm reading an ARC (advanced reader copy) of Erin Bowman's Vengeance Road, published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Here's my notes as I pick up and start to read Vengeance Road. Summary is in standard font. My questions, comments, observations are in italics.

Notes on August 23, 2015

The front cover: Cactus, skulls (human and animal), pistols.
Debbie's thoughts: This is a western. 

The back cover: Blurb tells me the story is about 18 year old Kate Thompson. Her father is killed "for a journal that reveals the secret location of a gold mine."
Debbie's thoughts: Hmmm... an old west story, something to do with gold mines. Anytime a story is about the west and mining, I wonder if it'll include the fact that those mines were on Native homelands. I wonder if it'll include the violence Native peoples endured by those who staked claim to those homelands. 

The map that appears on two pages, after the title, CIP, and dedication pages: Dated "Arizona Territory, 1877.
Debbie's thoughts: I don't see any Native spaces on the map. It has things like "Thompson Homestead" but I think it is fair to say the map erases Native presence from their homelands. Obviously, we're talking about point of view. I wonder who made the map? Was it made by someone in the story? Carlos Montezuma was born, in Arizona, around 1866. He was afraid to be kidnapped. By then, Native peoples were doing all they could to protect their homelands, AND, protect their families from being abducted and forced to work in mines. I'll need to get Ned Blackhawk's book, Violence Over the Land, out again if I need/want to say more about this! 

Chapter 1

Kate (the protagonist) is at the river "yanking a haul" on her Pa's plot of land, which she calls "the best plot of land 'long Granite Creek" (p. 1).
Debbie's thoughts: wondering how that plot of land came to be his? And what makes it best? I think yanking a haul means hauling water.  A search of Google maps tells me that Granite Creek is north of Prescott and southwest of Flagstaff. 
Smoke and yelping cause Kate to head to the house but it is too late. Her father is dead, swaying from a tree, and the house is on fire. She sees figures riding away and shoots at them. One falls. Scene switches to the Quartz Rock Saloon in Prescott (five miles away), where Kate, dressed like a boy, is watching the person who fell. She's sure he won't last long. She listens to conversation around her, which includes "a pair of uniforms from Fort Whipple" who are "hammering 'bout the Apache."
Debbie's thoughts: Apache. First mention of a tribe. That's important, but will there be context for the existence of that fort? And, context for why the Apaches are the subject of conversation?

The guy leaves the saloon. Kate follows him to an outhouse where she yanks open the door and points her pistol at him. He's inside it, sitting on a pot that is set into a wooden seat in the outhouse. He isn't using the outhouse for its purpose; he's sitting in there to look at his gunshot wound.
Debbie's thoughts: Small point, but a pot inside an outhouse? Doesn't make sense to me. 

He tells Kate that her dad had a secret, told to him and his friends by Morris, a clerk at Goldwaters. He won't tell her what that secret is. She shoots him.

End of chapter 1.
Debbie's thoughts: Bowman is using the shoot-em-up style of writing in a way that will definitely appeal to readers who like this style, but it is, so far, very much within the master narratives of US history. By that, I mean the praise of prospectors who set out to "strike it rich" on resources that belonged to someone else. Of course, that someone else is dehumanized in these stories. "Savage Indians," you know, who don't "properly use the land" -- which justifies what was done to them, in the name of capitalism and manifest destiny. Yeah, I didn't use caps for manifest destiny. Just don't want to right now.   

That's it for now. Other things to do before I start chapter 2, but hitting the 'publish' button on this. I'll be back.


Notes on August 24th, 2015:

Chapter 2

Kate heads to Goldwaters (a general store) and asks Morris (he's sweet on her) if anyone had been in to ask about her dad. Morris tells her yes, and asks her if anything happened. She doesn't answer, mulling over what he'd say if she did tell him. One option is to report her father's murder to Fort Whipple, but, Kate thinks "Whipple's soldiers protect settlers 'gainst Apache raids, not attacks from their own kind."
Debbie's thoughts: Apache raids. As before, good that Bowman is specific in naming a tribe, but again, context? Why would Apache's be raiding settlers? And, what about the use of "settlers" -- will Bowman provide more information on them? Again--how did they come by the land they're "settling" on?

Back at their house, Kate finds a few items, in a lunch box, that didn't burn in the fire. One of them is a photograph of her and her parents, with Kate as a baby. Her mother is Mexican. She recalls her father saying there wasn't a more beautiful woman in the territory. Gazing at the photo, Kate notes her mother's piercing eyes, high cheeks, and stern expression.
Debbie's thoughts: Hmmm... we could say that Vengeance Road merits a "diverse" tag because Kate is biracial. But--so far she hasn't struck me as identifying as biracial. Maybe that will come later. Another thought: Could a white man marry a Mexican woman in 1859? At that time, it was still called New Mexico Territory. It became Arizona Territory in 1862. And, I'm assuming Kate's parents were married. Small point: I'm curious about that lunch box. A quick look suggests there were lunch pails then. 
Kate thinks it is a blessing "in a way" that her mother died young, of consumption, because Prescott "ain't taking kindly to Mexicans lately." They're spat on, and "the cowardly part of me's happy" she (Kate) has skin "caught somewhere between his fair complexion and her golden bronze" (p. 14-15).
Debbie's thoughts: I guess thinking it is good her mother is dead fits in this "True Grit" style of writing. About that "golden bronze" skin: descriptions of skin tone are always fraught with layer upon layer of risk. In this case, I'm coming up short trying to imagine a golden bronze Mexican. "Golden bronze" sounds more like the words used to describe a fair skinned person who has a tan... like maybe a Spanish woman from Spain. In my experience, Mexicans, being Indigenous people, are darker than people from Spain. I'll also say that I feel like I'm on that slippery slope as I try to sort this out!
The lunch box also has a deed to their acreage, acquired through the Homestead Act, and a note from Pa telling her to go to Wickenburg and see Abe. It is something he's told her, over and over, as she's grown up. If something happens, go see Abe. Wickenburg is south, and Kate can't head there till the morning. Trying to go in the dark, she would need a light, and "fire's nothing but a beacon for the Apache" (p. 16).
Debbie's comments: Ah, yes. The Homestead Act of 1862, by which 160-acre plots of land in the "public domain" were made available to a head of household who would improve it. Recall what I said about who owned that land? Those Apache's were fighting for their homelands, also known as "public domain." 

Chapter 3

In the morning, Kate (still disguised as a guy) heads for Wickenburg. "Apache raids" aren't a "guaranteed occurrence" anymore and she "can't remember the last time a freighter lost a haul to a burnt wagon on account of Indians" (p. 20). She's following the Hassayampa, a river "that flows upside down" (p. 20). She says she "ain't fond of having to follow it" (p. 20) because Indians and crooks like the water. At one point she stops to let the horses drink and spots someone crouched on the trail, who she thinks is an Indian that is tracking her. Back on her horse, she heads on to Wickenburg, but stops in a saloon at Walnut Grove and learns where she can find Abe. She also asks about "a friend" who is really one of the guys who shot her dad, and finds out that the gang who killed her dad are called the Rose Riders. The people in the saloon think she's part of the gang and run her off. That night when she makes camp, two guys after a bounty on members of the Rose Riders try to get her but she kills one. The other takes off, but so does she.
Debbie's comments: Saying (again) that Apaches were defending their families and homelands. If you're interested in knowing more about Apaches during that time, see the transcript (or video) of the PBS series, We Shall Remain. Here's a quote: "Some miners were barbarous—poisoning the Apaches’ food with strychnine, cutting fetuses out of the bellies of pregnant women, selling Apache girls into slavery. When Americans decapitated a venerated Apache chief and sent his boiled skull back East as a gruesome trophy, they pushed Cochise too far." By the time of Bowman's story, many Apache's were on reservations. Geronimo resisted being put on a reservation and was captured in 1877. 

Chapter 4

Kate (she introduces herself as Nate) finds Abe's home, but he's gone (died two years prior). People there, however, know all about her dad and give her a letter from her dad that Abe had been keeping. It has details about a journal her parents found that led them to a cache of gold from a mine located in the Superstition Mountains.  The letter tells Kate to stay there, to live with Abe, but Kate sets out again, wondering why the Rose Riders killed her father rather than just beat him till he turned over the journal. They wanted the gold, and she thinks on what Pa said about gold making monsters of men and women.
Debbie's comments: As I read, I wonder about other works of historical fiction... are there stories wherein an oppressed people is ignored, for the glory of the oppressor? I know the answer, I suppose. Most children's books about Thanksgiving do that, too. Will I read, later in this story, how the miners are monsters, too, killing and raping Native women? Or is that fact not going to be part of this story?

Chapter 5

As she rides, someone fires (she thinks) at her. Turns out to be Jesse and Will (who she met at Abe's house), who fired a bullet into the sky to get her attention.  They want her to ride with them to Tucson to get some cattle but she doesn't want to do that. She tells them she's after the Rose Riders. They ride on together anyway.

Chapter 6

The three make camp for the night and take turns keeping watch for Apaches and the Rose Riders, just in case. She thinks back on what her dad taught her, including how to read. He made her read aloud from a book of poems. She thinks "Poetry don't make yer crops grow better or keep Apache from raiding yer land" (p. 53). They come across a burning carriage and remains of a family. The Rose Riders are responsible. They've left their mark, which is the image of a rose, carved into the forehead of the driver. It was also on Kate's dad's forehead.
Debbie's comments: Bad guys to watch out for are the Rose Riders who mutilate people, and, the Apaches. 

Chapter 7

The three camp again for the night, in the mountains where there's some pools, of water to bathe in. Kate declines the bath (the boys don't know she's a girl); the two boys get in the water. Kate goes for a walk, finds some "tribal markings" and heads back to camp, preferring awkwardness with the boys over "Apache arrowheads." At camp, the boys tell her what happened to their mother: "The Apache raided that afternoon." and "We'd murdered and pillaged their kind plenty, and when the federal troops went east to repel the Confederates invading New Mexico, I bet it looked like a surrender. Like we'd given up and it were time for revenge. Whatever the reason, the Apache rode through town and destroyed everything they could that day." Jesse saw what happened. Their mother was dragged off, and he watched her pull her derringer out and shoot herself in the mouth. he also watched them "scour and kill. Watched 'em drag women off."
Debbie's comments: Ok, a gesture towards violence whites did to the Apaches, but more striking is the graphic description of what the Apaches did. 
That is all for today. Hitting the "update" button.


August 25, 2015

Chapter 8

The next day, Kate and the boys spend part of the day showing each other their shooting skills. When they start out again, they see two of the Rose Riders.

Chapter 9

The two groups exchange fire. Kate gets shot in the shoulder, falls, and hits her head hard as she falls. When the shooting stops, the boys take off her shirt to check her wound. They realize Nate is not a guy. They take her to Phoenix where a whore named Evelyn doctors her. When she wakes, she tells him what she's doing (seeking vengeance).

Chapter 10

Well enough to move around, Kate figures out the Rose Riders are in Phoenix, too. Kate, Will, and Jesse come up with a plan to kill Waylan (leader of the Rose Riders). Kate will put on one of Evelyn's dresses and make a fuss about wanting to play poker (women aren't supposed to do that). One of the Riders steps up and escorts her to a table. On the way to it, Kate trips. He catches her and the kicks what she tripped up on. It was "an Apache girl" who is on "all fours scrubbing the floorboards." He calls her a "goddamn injun." She says something in her language and gets kicked again. Around them, men snigger and Kate thinks about the difference in how they are treating her versus how they treat the Apache girl. The man gets ready to kick the girl again, and Kate puts her own leg out to stop him, saying that she'll scrub better if he isn't kicking her. She ends up taking the kick on her shin.
Debbie's comments: Some people will read that part of the book and think well of Kate. It is a good thing to intervene when someone is being abused, but this is also within the White Savior trope.  

As Kate continues to the table, she catches the girl's eye. She looks confused and suspicious, and Kate isn't sure why she intervened. She thinks "I wouldn't expect an ounce of kindness from an Apache if I was to fall into their hands and I reckon she don't expect much from us, neither." She can tell that her leg is bruising and thinks "That's the last time I help an Indian who don't even thank me."
Debbie's comments: Who is this Apache girl? What is her role in this story? Bowman is clearly setting out the conflict between "us" and "them." This makes me think Kate doesn't identify at all as Mexican. Not sure what to think about that... Apaches did, in fact, fight Mexicans, too, which means it makes sense for Kate to collapse her Mexican and American identities as an "us" who sees Apaches as "them." 

Kate joins Waylan at the poker table. As they play, the Apache girl refills drinks and empties ashtrays. Whenever she walks by the man who kicked her, he spits at her back.
Debbie's comments: Not sure this makes sense. One minute she's scrubbing floors, and the next she's serving drinks? Setting that aside, was this spitting part necessary? We already know that guy detests her. He kicked her and called her an injun, remember? 

Kate sees that Waylan has her dad's pistol. A bit later, Waylan puts the journal on the table as part of his bet. A fight breaks out, and a fire. Kate has the journal. As she heads for the door she hears "Help" and finds the Apache girl, who doesn't look like an Apache anymore. Now she's just a scared girl. Kate shouts at her to run towards her, through a burning doorframe but the girl won't. Kate leaves. Outside she thinks of the people who burned in the carriage (chapter 7). Finding a blanket and a water barrel, she pushes the barrel to the saloon and runs inside where she wraps the blanket around herself and the girl and brings her out.
Debbie's comments: Saves her again... 

Kate is ok but the Apache girl's palms are blistered. She looks at Kate with astonishment. Kate leaves her to find Jesse and Will. Together again at Evelyn's, they learn that the Rose Riders are on their way up to get them. They climb out a window, just in time.

Chapter 13

Kate and the boys ride out of town, with the Rose Riders chasing them. They find an abandoned house to hide in. Waylan tracks them to it, but the townspeople are tracking him. Waylan takes off. The townspeople leave.

Chapter 14

Kate and the boys take turns sleeping and keeping watch for Waylan. Kate and Jesse talk. Kate realizes she wants Jesse to be a person that Jesse trusts.

Chapter 15

In the morning, Kate studies the journal's maps and notes. They make a plan to head into the Superstitious Mountains but Will is worried about the ghost shooter. He tells Kate that the ghost shooter is a sharpshooter who is in the mountains, killing people who enter. Some say the sharpshooter is "an Apache spirit protecting their land" (p. 159).  As they ride towards the mountains they realize they're being followed by the Apache girl. Through the binoculars, Kate sees that "her hair's parted into two long braids, and they hang over her shoulders looking like suspenders."
Debbie's comments: Hmmm... So far no mention that living Apaches might be protecting their land. Just this spirit can do that. And this description of the Apache girl... braids. Why that detail? 

Kate rides over to the girl, who says she isn't following them, but that they're on the same path. Kate tells her to go back to the saloon but the girl says "I'm never going back to that saloon. I used to have family and purpose and hope. White Eyes came and took it. They marched my people to camps like a herd, commanded my life like they were my god" (p. 162).
Debbie's comments: Clearly, this Apache girl is emerging as a new character. A plus: Bowman gives her good English speaking skills. Wondering how the girl came to work in a saloon? Why isn't she on the reservation with the rest of her people? 

Chapter 16

The girl tells Kate that the Superstitious Mountains are "sacred land, not to be tampered with. Angry land. A guide might be useful." Kate thinks over what the girl might provide. She thinks the girl knows her way around and could be helpful, kind of like the Indians who become scouts at Fort Whipple. She wonders who is crazier: "the Indians who desert their own kind or the ones fighting an endless supply of uniforms" (p. 162).
Debbie's comments: Bowman's reference to those scouts indicates she's done some research... 

Kate asks the girl if she knows the area well, and she replies "My people move when it suits us. When White Eyes came, the men had gone west to what you call Fort McDowell, along the Verde, to retaliate against a recent raid. Us women and children stayed behind only to be rounded up by the very men ours went to fight. The lucky ones got away, the rest walked to a prison White Eyes called a reserve. I was fortunate to escape the march but was picked up and taken to that saloon to work" (p. 163).
Debbie's comments: Aha! Now we know why she was in the saloon. That said, kind of odd imagining an Apache girl, speaking to a white/Mexican girl, and saying "White Eyes." She could say "your people" couldn't she? I've got to see what the source of "White Eyes" is, too. And the attack the girl is recounting must be something that happened around 1867 (guessing she's about same age as Kate, and since she was girl, subtracting 10 which puts her at childhood, age 8). 

The girl is looking for others who might be in the mountains and asks Kate what she seeks in the mountains. Kate replies "justice." The girl says, again, that the mountains are sacred and that "if you wish to pray to Ussen, there is no better place." Kate repeats that name and the girl tells her "the creator of life" but Kate thinks "Heaven forbid she just call him God."
Debbie's comments: With her thought that the girl should say "God" instead of "Ussen," Kate is disdainful of the girl's religion. 

Kate tells the girl that she thinks the men who hung her Pa may be at the gold mine. The girl frowns, saying "It is one thing to pick up gold scattered on the ground and another to dig in Mother Earth's body for it. To do so will bring Ussen's wrath and awaken the Mountain Spirits. They will stomp and stampede, causing the ground to heave and destroy everything near."  Kate asks her if she means that mining causes earthquakes. The girl replies "The Mountain Spirits serve Ussen. They will bring ruin upon those who dig for gold. I cannot help you. Not if gold is what you seek."  Kate tells her she's after the men, not the gold. The girl decides she can help her but will leave if she comes across her own people, and she'll leave when they get to the mine and find the men "violating the earth" because "It is sacred land, not to be tampered with" (164-165).
Debbie's comments: Wonder about the source for all of that? Native peoples do, in fact, hold lands sacred. What I see here, though, sounds a bit romantic. It'll work, though, for readers who like that romantic Indian stuff. 

The girl says "I am Liluye" and that it means Hawk Singing. She thanks Kate for what she did for her at the saloon. Kate calls her Lil and hears her tell her horse "My name is not Lil, but it's a start" (p. 166).
Debbie's comments: Finally! The girl has a name. I put it into a Google search and found a variation of it on a baby names page. Here's a screen shot:

Here's another:

It is also in Kroeber's book, Arapahoe Dialects, Volume 12, as an Arapahoe word meaning chicken hawk singing when soaring. What is it, I wonder? Miwok? Arapahoe? In my quick look I can't find it noted anywhere as being an Apache word or name... 

That's it for now. Lot of research to do with notes I took today, but for now... other things to do. Hitting that update button... And, I'll be back!

Update: Feb 24 2016 - I have not yet finished reading this book, but based on what I've read so far, it is going onto the Not Recommended list.


Dhonielle Clayton said...

So excited to continue reading this review!

Anonymous said...

Debbie wrote: "About that "golden bronze" skin: descriptions of skin tone are always fraught with layer upon layer of risk. In this case, I'm coming up short trying to imagine a golden bronze Mexican. "Golden bronze" sounds more like the words used to describe a fair skinned person who has a tan"

To me "golden bronze" sounds like the same color as caramel which was discussed earlier this month as not being a good word to use to describe skin color, but at least has the advantage of being widely recognized.


Unknown said...

I teach at a school that is 50+% Hispanic, with most students being Mexican/Mexican-American in background. Their skin tones vary from fair-skinned white to dark brown, but golden bronze is definitely a skin tone that shows up. It's a very diverse cultural heritage.

If you asked me to picture a celebrity who is frequently "golden bronze," I'd probably pick Mario Lopez. His family is from Sinaloa.