The discovery of a hidden journal and an old wedding photograph of a bride and groom in Native American dress rips open a 60-year-old family secret.
It is 1951, and eight-year-old Danny is visiting her Aunt Cee’s house in Camden, New Jersey, while her parents and older siblings take a day trip to Philadelphia. Restless, Danny opens a bureau drawer and finds a hidden black book and an old envelope containing a photograph. Aunt Cee enters the room, and seeing what Danny has uncovered, realizes that it’s time to reveal the missing details of a tale that has been mostly buried. She tells her niece: “This book is the story of an Indian boy who dared to do what one Caucasian girl’s father deemed unforgivable.” Duck’s debut novel alternates between Danny’s first-person narration, set in the present, and a third-person narration that jumps back to the 1890s. Over a period of two days, Aunt Cee recounts a story of forbidden love and tragic consequences. Charlotte Wickham, daughter of a prominent attorney, and Tey Aihamson, a member of the Lenape tribe, met and became best friends when they were in grade school in 1883. As teenagers, they fell in love. But Charlotte’s father, Tobias, whose parents had long ago been brutally slaughtered by a renegade Native American clan, hates all indigenous Americans. When Charlotte and Tey run off together, Tobias vows revenge. His obsessive rage results in cascading waves of heartbreak and destruction. Duck makes good use of Danny, who propels the story forward by persistently urging her aunt to complete the saga. The child’s innocent enthusiasm is visceral and contagious. Readers will realize that Aunt Cee plays a pivotal role in the original drama, but Duck waits until the end to pull all the pieces together. The novel sets up a battle of good vs. evil, with the characters being less three-dimensional than representational of each side.
Idealized/stereotyped portrayals of the cast stretch credulity, but the novel itself remains well-paced and engaging.