First Lines: “Listen!” Eunice said, sitting up straight. “Don’t you hear that rustling sound out by the summer garden?” It was midnight. Beside her in the little wooden bed, her older brother Stephen lay snuggled beneath a heavy quilt.
When I was at the library about a month ago, I took a quick spin through the YA section (I already had way too many books checked out as it was, but I couldn’t resist). This book was on a display in an attempt (I think?) to get people ready for Thanksgiving. (Puritans, Native Americans…I think that was the point.) As a history buff with a specialization in colonial America, I saw this and had to grab it.
Conflicts between the English colonies of America, the French colonies of Canada, and the Native Americans raged through the early 1700s. Eunice, a young Massachusetts girl, has been lucky so far. Raised by a preacher father in a loving family, she’s never really encountered the Natives before. But then they arrive in her town and burn it to the ground, taking the survivors to their villages as captives. She’s adopted into a Mohawk family and raised on their ways. She’s taught their language and she makes new friends along the way. But when a stranger comes to the village and offers to take Eunice back to Massachusetts, Eunice will have to make a choice between the family of her birth and the family of her rebirth.
There were a few things about this I absolutely loved: it was based on a true story and thus entrenched in real history (something I nerded out over) and it showed a much different perspective than we usually see of colonial America. This actually looks at the Native Americans in a sympathetic, understanding light. It looks at their culture as a valid culture, rather than inferior to the colonists. I adored that.
But let’s just get it out of the way now: it’s pretty obvious pretty quickly that fictional writing is not Demos’s wheelhouse. The prose feels fairly lifeless throughout the story. Someone dies or something big happens and it’s explained more reactionary: “Eunice cried herself to sleep” rather than something more like, “A sob bubbled up in Eunice’s throat, the emotions choking her.” You get my point, I hope. It felt elementary, like a child relating the day’s events to a parent.
Which, in some ways, actually worked for the story. When it starts, Eunice is seven and that type of storytelling made sense, even if the narrator sort of made an appearance from time to time with some pointed comments about race and morality. But as Eunice got older, it felt like it should have changed more, but it didn’t. It’s pretty emotionless.
But the story (and the actual history it’s built on) is really interesting. Eunice Williams was a real person. She was a young Puritan girl growing up in the early 1700s Massachusetts. She was actually kidnapped by Native Americans and adopted into the tribe of her kidnapper (which was a standard Native American custom–the newcomer was taking the place of someone who had died in the tribe). And this outlines her story really well, filled with notes at the beginning and end about her life. I’m definitely going to read more about her.
I will not claim to be an expert on Native American tribes and customs, but from what I do know, this was pretty darn accurate. Things about the Mohawks, things about relations with the French and English, etc. I found no faults with the research. Just the writing style.
This is definitely a fast read and kind of a launchpad for introducing yourself/someone to early 18th century America through the French, English, and Native Americans in America and Canada.