In the Dakota Territory of the 1880s, 9-year-old Four Winds struggles to find her way after being abruptly taken from her family and coerced into attending an Indian boarding school.
Subjected to a series of cruel humiliations intended to “kill the Indian, save the man,” she sees her clothes burned and her hair cut (something normally reserved for mourning in her culture). Physically punished for speaking Lakota and labelled a “savage” for expressing emotion through dance, the newly named Sarah slowly begins to adjust to white cultural norms, ultimately negotiating a resolution that allows her to use her suffering to help guide her community. In her second book focusing on forced acculturation, Wolf (Someone Named Eva, 2007) skillfully educates readers about the historical context. Unfortunately most of the characters remain emotionally flat—there is far more telling than showing—and the plot moves slowly. While Four Winds’ interior monologue feels natural and realistic, the dialogue of both Natives and whites is stilted, further distancing readers. The most intriguing character is Catches Fire, a Lakota boy whose apparent mental slowness hides a surprising back story, but this strand of the tale is not fleshed out.
This quiet story about a tragic and shameful episode in American history may not be compelling enough to attract those who are not die-hard fans of the genre. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 9-12)