A Chickasaw teenager fights a rival tribe after his father’s death and finds his own place in the community.
In this debut middle-grade novel—set in the early 18th century—Chula is a Chickasaw teen busy with perfecting his hunting skills and facing the local bully until his father is killed by Choctaw raiders. Chula’s grief turns into a desire for revenge, and he is determined to be among the fighters who attack the Choctaws in retribution. After celebrating the annual Green Corn Ceremony, Chula earns his place in the raiding party. A Chickasaw warrior tells him: “You have proven yourself as a hunter and on the toli field. You have been an honorable brother, son, and nephew in your family. You will learn self-control with time, starting with this raid.” But Chula discovers that taking a life is harder than he imagined. He returns to his village to find that he is better suited to a different but equally crucial role in the tribe. The novel’s historical aspects are fully researched, and Perry has a keen eye for the specifics that make Chula’s world vivid to readers: “The decoys were made from the skin of a deer head and neck that was stretched over lightweight cane hoops. They were so life-like they not only fooled the deer, they sometimes fooled other hunters, which meant we had to be even more aware of our surroundings.” The dialogue is sometimes overwrought (“ ‘I am not a boy! Not anymore,’ I said bitterly. ‘And I will give Aki’s spirit rest’ ”). But the author tells a well-plotted story rooted firmly in the 18th-century Chickasaw experience, full of genuine details (a fishing scene is particularly engaging) and written from an insider’s perspective (Perry is Chickasaw, and the work’s publisher is affiliated with the Chickasaw Nation). The detailed line drawings by debut illustrator Freeland portray the practices described in the tale, adding to the book’s cultural authenticity. Although Chula’s sorrow is profound, it does not overtake the narrative, and he and the other characters are fully realized. The solid volume fulfills its educational mission and serves as an enjoyable story, holding the audience’s attention while conveying information and depicting a world often presented from the perspective of outsiders. A helpful glossary defines the Chickasaw words used in the text.
An engrossing historical novel of Chickasaw life by a member of that nation.