Thursday, February 23, 2017

Not recommended: SCAR: A REVOLUTIONARY WAR TALE by J. Albert Mann

You know that advice.... or that teaching... where you're supposed to look for the good? Where you're supposed to highlight the good and not focus on the bad?

It sounds like good advice, but it is also an approach that affirms the status quo. Today, I read Scar: A Revolutionary War Tale by J. Albert Mann. It came out in 2016 from Calkins Creek/Highlights. It got pretty good reviews from the major journals. No stars, but still, good reviews. I could imagine myself saying a lot of what those reviews did, because some of what they said is ok.


I bring a different lens to my reviews. What did this author say, about Native people? Is it accurate? Is it biased? In this case, what did Mann say about Native people in Scar? Is it accurate? Is it biased?

Here's the description:
Sixteen-year-old Noah Daniels wants nothing more than to fight in George Washington’s Continental Army, but an accident as a child left him maimed and unable to enlist. He is forced to watch the Revolution from his family’s hard scrabble farm in Upstate New York—until a violent raid on his settlement thrusts him into one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution, and ultimately, face to face with the enemy. A riveting coming of age story, this book also includes an author’s note and bibliography.

The battle is the Battle of Minisink. I don't want to do a deep dive into it. I'm focusing on how Mann writes about Native people. Mann gives us two characters. Noah, the white teen, and a Mohawk teen who he finds himself next to. Both are near death. The story is told from Noah's point of view. When he realizes he's right next to a Mohawk teen who is badly injured, too, he decides to help him. He looks at the Mohawk teen and notices a scar on his face. So, he decides to call him Scar. That was, for me, strike one. Would you do that? Look at the physical attributes of someone and call that person that name? That's pretty audacious and thoughtless, too.

Come to think of it, this name reminds me of another character named Scar... You know who I am thinking of? That bad guy in The Lion King. 

In that time they're dying together, Noah cares for Scar. He keeps him alive. That is white saviorism. That's strike two! Both teens will die by the end of the story, but there are 144 pages in this story. A good bit of it is about the battle, but there's also other parts.

Like... the Mohawks! They scalp the white people! Noah is afraid to get scalped. Noah wraps the body of Mr. Little, who got scalped. Mr. Packet got scalped, too. And Dr. Tusten! Sticking with my baseball analogy, I'll call all that scalping "strike three" in this book.

Can I have one more strike? I know it is not fitting my baseball theme, but anyway... early in the book there's a part about what Mohawk men do. They fish and fight. They don't farm or plant wheat. That, we're to understand, is women's work. Mohawk men fish and fight. Is that accurate? Hmmm... Maybe, but I don't want to look that up.

And let's look a bit at Joseph Brant. Veteran warrior. Known for cruelty in battle. And yet... he's also known to take risks to save settlers from being scalped or burned. Burned? As in burned at the stake? Like we see in Westerns? I don't know... that's another one of those things that gets put forth as something-Indians-did. But is it?

Bottom line: I do not recommend J. Albert Mann's Scar: A Revolutionary War Tale published by Calkins Creek (Highlights) in 2016.


Mel said...

Thank you. I would be offended knowing scalping did not originate with Indians and has deeper roots as well as traditions for naming. Just to name a couple.

Meg G. said...

I think you make some very valid points here. However, I'm curious as to why you didn't want to look up the gender roles in Mohawk society to confirm your suspicion. Also why you weren't interested in researching the burning because you felt that it was a stereotype and not based in history. If the information is biased and incorrect, I want to know that there is a lack of historical evidence to back up that choice in the novel, as it will help to strengthen your argument.

Sam Jonson said...

Meg, I don't know for sure (yet) whether the burning was ever done by the Mohawks or not, but I do know that it was historically very common for European Christians to burn "infidels" and "heretics" at the stake, as in the cases of Joan of Arc and Giordano Bruno. So maybe it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. (I would do some research to confirm that hypothesis, but I don't have much time for that today. Sorry for the inconvenience.)

Sam Jonson said...

Oh, and one thing—"Scar" or not, it seems rather foolhardy for white kid Noah to slap a new name upon an Amerindian teen, seeing how that happened a lot throughout history, as with Thasunke Khokipapi, boarding school students, etc. (The former's name actually meant "His Horses are Feared", yet the white invaders had a lot of nerve calling him "Young Man Afraid of His Horses".)
Also, for any readers who aren't sure why the thing about Noah keeping "Scar" alive is the White Savior trope, I'll tell you that it implies that Amerindians never knew about first aid. (That implication also appears in Drift by Howard Mayne, which is reviewed in Through Indian Eyes.)