Friday, November 16, 2018

Debbie--have you seen THE RANSOM OF MERCY CARTER by Caroline Cooney?

A reader wrote to ask if I've reviewed The Ransom of Mercy Carter by Caroline Cooney. It was published in 2001 by Random House. Here's the overview:
Deerfield, Massachusetts is one of the most remote, and therefore dangerous, settlements in the English colonies. In 1704 an Indian tribe attacks the town, and Mercy Carter becomes separated from the rest of her family, some of whom do not survive. Mercy and hundreds of other settlers are herded together and ordered by the Indians to start walking. The grueling journey — three hundred miles north to a Kahnawake Indian village in Canada — takes more than 40 days. At first Mercy's only hope is that the English government in Boston will send ransom for her and the other white settlers. But days turn into months and Mercy, who has become a Kahnawake daughter, thinks less and less of ransom, of Deerfield, and even of her "English" family. She slowly discovers that the "savages" have traditions and family life that soon become her own, and Mercy begins to wonder: If ransom comes, will she take it?
The Ransom of Mercy Carter is a captivity story. These kinds of story started with Mary Rowlandson's account of her captivity in 1676. There have been many since then, including

  • Lois Lenski's Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison, published in 1941. Like Cooney's book, it  also won a Newbery Honor Medal.
  • Elizabeth George Speare's Calico Captive, published in 1957, and based on the capture of James Johnson and his family in 1754. 


It'd be interesting to do a chart of plot points across these three books. Cooney's opens with the place (Deerfield, Massachusetts), the date (February 28, 1704) and the temperature (10 degrees below zero). The first page is about Mercy's family settling into bed for the night, and praying:
Dear Lord, prayed Mercy Carter, do not let us be murdered in our beds tonight.
I'll see if I can get a copy of the book, but some things I see (like that first line) suggest that the book is a sensational telling--more of a thriller than anything else. The word "savage" appears in it 29 times.

Skimming what I can see online, I see there's a scene where the captive kids watch a Native man who had "taken four scalps" earlier. The description of his actions is very detailed as he scrapes flesh away. Pretty gross, isn't it? So, I have a hunch that The Ransom of Mercy Carter will end up with a not recommended tag.

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