Friday, October 28, 2016
Soldier Sister, Fly Home
by Nancy Bo Flood; illus. by Shonto Begay
144 pages; ages 10 & up
Tess and her sister, Gaby are close. So when Tess moves from the reservation school to Flagstaff to finish junior high, she looks forward to spending time with her sister who is enrolled in the local college. Tess is hoping that a track scholarship will help her get to college.
But things change. Gaby enlists and Tess misses her companionship. Gaby's best friend is killed in action right before Gaby is deployed to Iraq. Tess is trying to figure out how to live in two worlds: that of the mostly white school she attends, and back home with her Diné family. She is also left with Gaby's horse, Blue, who she promises to care for but is afraid of.
What I love about this book is the authentic writing. Nancy Bo Flood captures the sounds and smells of the desert: ravens whooshing overhead or "hunkered on limbs of a gnarly pinion tree like old men arguing politics." You can taste the air, feel the red sand in your shoes, and the heat of the desert sun beating down on your head.
I love how Nancy brings us into the Navajo culture, sharing traditions and language. How Tess and her Grandfather collect a lamb for Gaby's Protection Ceremony meal, and soothe it, singing, so the lamb is calm and peaceful when Grandfather picks up his knife.
I love how Nancy captures Tess, caught in two worlds. At school she is the "girl from the Rez" and accused of using "Navajo magic" to win at track. At home she is called an apple - red on the outside, white on the inside. An incident at the trading post makes Tess think more deeply about what it means to be a "real Indian", and where home is when you are half white, half Navajo.
I love that Nancy includes back matter: information about the Navajo language and a glossary of words used in the book, as well as an acknowledgement of Lori Piestewa , a member of Hopi who is remembered as the first Native American woman in US history to die in combat on foreign soil while serving in the military.
Beyond the book:
Check out this lovely tribute to Lori Piestewa (and pay attention to the song that is being sung).
Writing about a culture other than your own isn't easy. Some people think that you shouldn't. Nancy shares her thoughts on writing about another culture on her blog.
You can learn more about culture, traditions, and beliefs of the Diné here. You'll also find links to Code talkers (like Tess's grandfather). For a lesson in how to say the colors in Navajo language, check out this video.
Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading.
Review copy provided by the publisher.