Linda Johnson has been a freelance writer, illustrator, and designer for 30-plus years. She lives on a small farm in northern Maryland, where she is a passionate saver of heirloom seeds. She has published two novels: "Little Turtle Island" (2017), and "Yellow Bird" (2010).
“...a charming story about a bygone time where even magic seems possible.”
– Kirkus Reviews
In this 16th-century love story, an Onondaga girl and a Welsh boy meet on a deserted island.
Following the death of her mother, Nushèmakw is raised by her mother’s clan in an Onondaga village, although her absentee father is Lenape. Naturally empathetic, she’s haunted by powerful visions and always somewhat alienated from her fellow villagers because of her mixed heritage. Nushèmakw is also ungovernably mischievous. After she twice interrupts ritual ceremonies and angers her cousin and warrior-in-training, Guiarasi, she is sent to live with her father and his people at the age of 12. But when her father dies as a result of a siege, she’s forced to flee unaccompanied to Little Turtle Island until it’s safe to return. Meanwhile, Owen, a Welsh boy, is sent to become a friar. He apprentices as a scribe, translating manuscripts. He resists taking the full orders to become a brother because the vow of chastity would prevent him from marrying and starting a family. He becomes entranced by the politically subversive writing of Sir Thomas More and is endangered when King Henry demands that all his subjects pledge allegiance to the crown at the expense of both God and the pope. Owen flees with his uncle Seamus and ends up washed ashore on Little Turtle Island, where he meets Nushèmakw. Both blessed with a facility for learning languages, they’re quickly able to devise a makeshift one with which to communicate, and they begin to fall in love. But Nushèmakw frets that a marriage between the two would imperil Owen since Guiarasi still hatefully vows his revenge. Johnson (Yellow Bird, 2010) writes in a meditatively poetic style, full of emotion and depth: “Then you came. This strange man, all alone. I saw then how large the universe is, and how many secrets it holds. I could see the whole world spinning under the heavens.” Both characters’ stories are powerful enough to stand alone, and the author dexterously weaves them into one coherent narrative. She also provides a penetrating, timely exploration of cultural difference.
A moving story about cultural alienation and familial identity.
Pub Date: June 17, 2017
Page count: 216pp
Publisher: Garden Gate Farm
Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2017
In Johnson’s novel, faith and mysticism bring two people on uncertain paths together in the mountains of Appalachia.
On the surface, Amanda Abernathy and Cody Stone have little in common, save their mental infirmities. Amanda is a 17-year-old who, after a serious head injury, now lives with vivid, waking nightmares. Cody, meanwhile, is just another young veteran returned home from Vietnam with debilitating shellshock, his mind ever calling him back to the horrors he witnessed in the jungle. But in their shared “spells” an inexplicable bond emerges, a mystical connection between two people who have never met and don’t even know each other’s names. Their paths will eventually cross on South Mountain at Yellow Bird—the dilapidated bookstore that Amanda inherited from her grandmother—but not before weathering small-town scandals, skirmishes with the local coal company and a disaster of almost biblical proportions. Johnson’s debut is, at its core, a pastoral tale, a celebration of the rustic music and rich traditions of the hills and hollows of Virginia and West Virginia and their ability to offer relief and purpose in a harsh, lonesome world. The narrative employs a unique dual tone, portraying its everyday events and folksy setting with blunt, obtuse language while contrasting that with lyrical, dreamlike prose for Amanda and Cody’s trances. Occasionally the latter is overly vague, but much of the novel’s appeal is in its coyness with details, and since the characters are so willing to accept the strange or the spiritual, the wealth of unanswered questions isn’t as distressing as one might expect. Though the novel is not devoid of action, it’s at its best in the small moments, when characters are talking, sharing stories or enjoying meals. Quaintness is what the novel honors, and in its depiction of this quaintness, the book excels.
Old-fashioned but never stodgy; a charming story about a bygone time where even magic seems possible.
Pub Date: June 24, 2010
Page count: 151pp
Publisher: Garden Gate Farm
Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2011
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