Saturday, December 17, 2016

Worry and Wonder, by Marcie Rendon, in SKY BLUE WATER: GREAT STORIES FOR YOUNG READERS

Marcie Rendon's "Worry and Wonder" is a short story in Sky Blue Water: Great Stories for Young Readers, edited by Jay D. Peterson and Collette A. Morgan. Here's a screen cap of the cover and a partial listing of the Table of Contents:

Published in 2016 by the University of Minnesota Press, Worry and Wonder is one of those stories where a character is going to be with me for a long time. I could call Worry and Wonder a story about the Indian Child Welfare Act--or, "ick waa waa." That's what Amy is calling it when the story opens. She's a seventh grader, sitting in her social studies class, doodling "ick waa waa" on her notebook as her teacher talks about the environment, and the importance of water.

Amy's  thinking back to the day before, when she'd been in court and the judge said she'd have to wait another three months before going to live with her dad. Amy's "ick waa waa" and images she draws by those words capture her frustration with ICWA. In those three months, however, she spends more and more time with her dad.

Are you wondering about ICWA? In the story, Amy's dad tells her about it:
He explained that ICWA stood for the Indian Child Welfare Act. He told her how in the 1950s and 1960s Indian children were taken from their families and placed with white families. How those children had grown up and fought to have federal legislation passed so that Indian kids, if they needed to be placed in foster care, would be placed with Indian families, like the home Amy was in, and how it was federal law, tribal law, that the courts and the tribes had to try and find immediate family for children to be reunited with, which is why the courts had found him and told him to come home to raise Amy.
Some of you know that ICWA was in the news in 2016. Five years ago, a Choctaw child was placed with a white foster home in California. Since then, her Choctaw father had been trying to get her back, but the white family had been fighting to keep her. In the end, her father prevailed. In March, when child services went to pick up the six-year-old child, the home was surrounded by media and protestors who thought the white family ought to be able to keep her. That family turned the case into a media frenzy, with one major news source after another misrepresenting ICWA, tribal sovereignty, and tribal citizenship. Right around then, I read Emily Henry's The Love That Split the World. In it, a white couple finds a work-around to ICWA and adopts a Native infant. That character's Native identity is central to that story, which draws heavily from a wide range of unattributed an detribalized Native stories that guide that character. As you may surmise, I do not recommend Henry's novel.

The case of the Choctaw child and Emily Henry's young adult novel were in my head as I started reading Rendon's story of Amy.

Rendon--who is White Earth Anishinabe--gives us a story that doesn't misrepresent ICWA or Native identity, or nationhood. My heart ached for Amy as I read, and it soared, too. Rendon's story is infused with Native content. Some, like the water ceremony, are explicit. That part of the story is sure to tug on the heart strings of those who are following the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's fight to protect their water from Big Oil. There are other things in the story, too, that Native readers will discern.

Rendon's Worry and Wonder 
is filled with mirrors for Native readers. 

From start to finish, Rendon's short story is deeply touching. I highly recommend it and look forward to more from her. In my not-yet read pile is Murder on the Red River, due out in 2017 from Cinco Puntos Press. It may be one of the books I'll recommend as a crossover (marketed to adults, but one that teens will enjoy).

Above I showed you a partial listing of the Table of Contents. I've yet to read Anne Ursu's story, but I look forward to it. Her character, Oscar, in The Real Boy is like Amy. In my heart. Get a copy of Sky Blue Water. 


Hanna said...

Thanks for this Debbie! I'm buying the collection now, to share with my sister who teaches at an Anishinabe language school in Minnesota. I'm so grateful for your analysis and recommendations.

Anonymous said...

My grandfather was adopted from a Choctaw orphanage and raised in California. I often try to find myself in American Indian literature because I was raised away from the culture. I must read this book. It's like there is a puzzle piece missing from my family. It's not given a name but the history of discrimination and suppression has shaped the design of the puzzle piece. When I look hard enough, I can find the connections. I'm thankful for your reviews.