On the day her little brother Peter is hospitalized with a life-threatening illness, 11-year-old Feather is taken on a spirit quest through Manhattan in a series of improbable events in which her Lakota grandfather passes on some of his powers as a traditional healer.
Feather describes the day she saved her 5-year-old brother's life in a chronological narrative she writes up after the fact. This frame reassures readers but removes most of the suspense. Her focus is not plot but the particulars of her spiritual training. This cultural appropriation of another’s religious traditions is surprisingly insensitive. Although the Texan author has dedicated his book to generic “First Americans,” his only stated personal connection is “lifelong interest and respect.” No sources are provided for the mishmash of Native American cultural and ceremonial details. Wooden dialogue and stereotyped characters add to reader discomfort. Also involved in Feather’s training are a magical taxi driver, an Arapaho with whom her grandfather can “talk the old talk,” although those peoples had different languages; a Kodiak bear in the Central Park Zoo; Mrs. Chen, the ageless owner of an international curio shop in Greenwich Village; and the Andersons’ Jewish landlady, a Holocaust survivor, who brings chicken soup to the boy.
Readers who would like to go on a spirit quest should choose instead Sylvia Ross’ more carefully crafted and respectful Blue Jay Girl (2010). (Fiction. 9-12)