In Goldsmith’s debut, a historical coming-of-age story, the rapidly evolving identity of earnest and precocious 14-year-old Winona Daggett compellingly plays against the backdrop of racial tension between white and Native American societies in 1970s Montana.
Winona is part of a patched-together, less than perfect family: her wise older sister, Jess, her pushover mother, Marie, her alcoholic stepfather, Randy, and her two young stepsiblings. The family runs on equal parts tenderness and cruelty, so early on, Winona had to develop her own moral code. She calls on this integrity to stand up to school administrators trying to keep white and Indian students segregated, and to follow her heart and heady desire into the arms of Bell, a chiseled high school basketball player who happens to be a Lakota Indian. When Winona first meets him at a high school dance, “We stood, swaying very slightly, as if a wind were blowing two ways at once against both our backs, pushing us toward each other.” The screw is turned when long-buried family secrets come to light and Winona moves from bystander to player in the personal and political matters of her time. Goldsmith gently keeps the reader aligned with her sensitive heroine’s consciousness, delivering the kind of intimate, affecting language worthy of both the tragic and beautiful elements that come with an end of innocence. After she loses her virginity, for example, Winona gains a new understanding of her mother and stepfather’s intimacy when she hears him say her name: “I heard tones—desire and hope, seduction and fear—I wouldn’t have picked up four days before, as if my range of hearing now stretched into the supersonic, like a bat’s….Energy poised on the brink of force, two magnets quivering between attraction and repulsion.”
A touching, freshly told story enriched by a vibrant cultural backdrop.