Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Debbie--have you seen WILLA OF THE WOOD by Robert Beatty?

A reader wrote to ask if I've seen Robert Beatty's Willa of the Wood. Published on July 10, 2018 by Disney Hyperion, a sneak preview of the first chapters was made available three weeks ago (mid to late June).  Willa of the Wood is set in the Great Smoky Mountains, in 1900. The book's description at Amazon does not say anything at all about Cherokees.... 

Move without a sound. Steal without a trace.
To Willa, a young night-spirit, humans are the murderers of trees. She's been taught to despise them and steal from them. She's her clan's best thief, creeping into the log cabins of the day-folk under cover of darkness and taking what they won't miss. It's dangerous work, but Willa will do anything to win the approval of the padaran, the charismatic leader of the Faeran people.
When Willa's curiosity leaves her hurt and stranded in the day-folk world, she calls upon the old powers of her beloved grandmother, and the unbreakable bonds of her forest allies, to survive. Only then does she begin to discover the shocking truth: that not all of her human enemies are the same, and that the foundations of her own Faeran society are crumbling. What do you do when you realize that the society you were born and raised in is rife with evil? Do you raise your voice? Do you stand up against it?
As forces of unfathomable destruction attack her forest home, Willa must decide who she truly is--facing deadly force with warm compassion, sinister corruption with trusted alliance, and finding a home for her longing heart.

But take a look at this excerpt of chapter 1 (source is The Laurel of Asheville): 
She came from a clan of forest people that the Cherokee called “the old ones” and told stories about around their campfires at night. The white-skinned homesteaders referred to her kind as night-thieves, or sometimes night-spirits, even though she was as flesh and blood as a deer, a fox, or any other creature of the forest. But she seldom heard the true name of her people. In the old language—which she only spoke with her grandmother now—her people were called the Faeran.
And this excerpt from the review at Kirkus tells us a bit about the Faeran:
Under the rule of the padaran, the old ways of speaking to animals and plants, foraging and caretaking, and using the old language are forbidden. Instead, Faeran children are forced to speak English and drafted into his fearsome army of trained hunter-thieves called jaetters, who must steal from the day-folk, or white homesteaders.
Those who know some Native history will see the parallel that Beatty seems to be developing. The "padaran" treat the "Faeran" a lot like the ways that Native children were treated in mission and boarding schools in the US.  Beatty's story--what I've seen so far--makes me uneasy. If I'm able to get the book, I'll be back with some thoughts on it.


Robert Beatty said...

I hope you do indeed have the opportunity to read my book WILLA OF THE WOOD. I wrote it with the deepest respect for forests, wildlife, and all human cultures, especially the Cherokee. In addition to writing an adventure story that people of all ages (8+) enjoyed reading, my goal was to write a story that explored how we perceive people who are different from ourselves. Both Willa and the people around her have preconceived notions about the world, but these notions are opened up through the course of the story. During her travels, Willa catches glimpses of white-skinned homesteaders, loggers, Cherokee, and others. Several of the main characters in the story, whom Willa comes to love, are Cherokee. Willa herself is a person of color. She is a member of a fictitious ancient Faeran race. With the coming of the white settlers, the padaran (leader) in her society is trying to suppress the language and old ways, but Willa has been raised by her maternal grandmother to speak the Faeran language and value the old ways, so she resists the suppression of her culture, which leads to climactic events. When I wrote this book, I worked closely with my friends in the Eastern Band of the Cherokee here in the mountains of North Carolina where I live, and where the story takes place. One of my guiding consultants on the book was a Cherokee educator. One of my other guiding consultants was the director of the Cherokee museum. It was important to me that although this is a fantasy adventure story, that I made sure I wrote a story consistent with all of our shared values. This book isn't for the faint of heart (there are some dark and harsh things that happen), but it is very much a book about cherishing and protecting all living things and all cultures.
—Robert Beatty, Author of WILLA OF THE WOOD

Ava Jarvis said...

And also looking forwards to more on this book, too.