A historical fiction novel presents the story of a woman succeeding against all odds.
Padgett Harvey, the daughter of mixed-race parents—one white, the other Native American, of the Maliseet tribe—grows up in the 1950s near the small town of Houlton, Maine, in a comfortable, loving home. Things take a turn for the worse for Padgett, however, as her parents are killed in a hate crime. Without a home, she must move to her Grandma and Uncle George’s house in “The Flats,” a disadvantaged part of town where Native Americans live. Despite these setbacks, Padgett is able to flourish at school, making friends and becoming a star student. On the eve of starting high school, though, her grandmother’s house burns down, and Padgett must go into foster care. Still, she remains undaunted, and continues to excel in her studies, receiving a scholarship to study finance at Syracuse University, and graduating from high school as valedictorian. In her graduation speech, Padgett promises that she will “return to Houlton, to the people who have supported me, and dedicate my time and whatever fortune I may have, to improving the lot of my tribe, the Maliseet. I want to see them out of the shacks at the dump and living in real homes as part of this community we all love. That is my goal, and also, I believe, my destiny.” This directive, along with Padgett’s work in the New York financial sector, makes up the back half of the book, as she and Sean Patrick McGuinness, another Houlton native who prospers despite a meager upbringing, plan an event that will help the Maliseet gain federal recognition. Fields’ (The Ghosts of Evergreen, 2015, etc.) novel commendably discusses issues of racism and the challenges that Native Americans have faced in this country, but his characterization often lacks nuance—the villains in the story can be cartoonish, and the heroes lack any flaws, making Padgett’s eventual triumphs unsurprising. Emotionally, though, it’s hard not to feel good reading a success story like this, and there’s enough humor to keep the narrative moving along briskly. But a smattering of copy errors throughout detracts from the reading experience (for example, the character Erika Fitzpatrick is later spelled “Erick”).
This uplifting book should resonate with those looking for a simple and inspiring rags-to-riches tale.