JC Eagle, a recent college graduate, knows little about his family background, other than that his mother was Native American and his father, whom he never met, was white. This lack of concrete knowledge about his forebears has been a lacuna in his life since he was in grade school, so he returns to his hometown of Yarbell, checks into a local boardinghouse and goes on a search for his father’s identity. He also reintegrates into his old community, which he finds is unwilling or unable to care about contaminated water and the machinations of a major corporation, as he connects with his Cherokee roots. DeHaven is clearly extremely familiar with this part of the United States, and he draws a precise portrait for the many readers who have little or no knowledge of its geography or customs. The novel also does a fair job of presenting its main character’s day-to-day life. However, the plot is, if anything, a bit overstuffed. The narration frequently shifts from past to present tense and back again, even within the same paragraph, which lends it an uneven, jerky quality. There’s an unpleasant academic tone as well, as if the author couldn’t quite decide whether to write a novel or an anthropology text; it would have been preferable, for example, if some facts were woven more seamlessly into the story (“In the Ozarks, it was taken for granted that a visitor was to be offered food and/or drink. There was no discussion about whether there was time. There was going to be something to eat and/or drink and there was going to be visiting”). Also, like that other JC, the main character is presented as something of a prophet, which, along with the novel’s liberal use of biblical quotations, can be off-putting.
Readers may find much of interest in this coming-of-age tale, but those with a low tolerance for didacticism may want to sit this one out.