Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper

Ghost Hawk is a historical novel that marries two cultural perspectives long considered to be radically different. It's also a touching and personal story about growing up.

It begins with Little Hawk, an 11-year-old Native American boy, who comes back to his village from his spirit walk into manhood to find almost everyone he knows dead from scarlet fever. The second half of the book follows John, a European boy who considers the ghost of Little Hawk to be his friend and teacher. As John grows to manhood he quietly challenges the attitudes of those around him. The book ends with the outbreak of King Phillip's War.

What struck me about this book is how well it presents the human desire for stability. We are often unaware that history is happening all around us: major events may take place, they may even be close to home, but most of us are focused on our home, family, and friends. There are minor characters in the book who make bloodthirsty calls for war and posture with both loaded words and weapons. But they are nothing but a vocal minority. The heroes and heroines of Ghost Hawk, who we see on both sides of the cultural divide, are those who recognize trade and communication as valuable tools for stability as a means to keep their homes and families safe. The domestic nature of Susan Cooper's sympathies alleviates some of the horror of the history which she relates.

The result is a truly brilliant book in which a difficult subject is approached with humanity and tenderness. I believe Ghost Hawk will be a popular book in middle school for many years to come.

Published August 27, 2013 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

Review first published in Stalks from DIESEL, a bookstore in September 2013

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