A Native American legend about a brave young woman who helps save her tribe gets a humorous retelling in this novel.
In the early 1700s, the Onguiaahra tribe lives near what is now called Niagara Falls. Lelewala, a Native American “princess”—her father is Chief Honovi—grows up loving to spin tales and wants to become a storyteller. Her friends include Frekki, a red wolf; Moki, a squirrel; and Jaci, a cardinal. One day, Lelewala’s brother Dyani accidentally shoots his friend Inola with an arrow, killing him. He blames Lelewala’s distracting storytelling, and she runs away. An owl (actually the evil snake maiden Chumana in disguise) advises her to ride the Niagara rapids, a feat that will impress the village. Chumana hopes to capture Lelewala’s canoe and steal her gift of storytelling, but is foiled by Heno, the God of Thunder, who lives in a vast cave behind the falls. His son Janok, a restless adolescent, finds Lelewala and takes her to his home. Over four years, the young couple fall in love, but Chumana plots to impersonate Lelewala, go to her tribe, and “rewrite the history of the elders, the whole Indian nation, and of all those who explore The Land. She who writes history, controls it!” Lelewala must risk her life and happiness with Janok to help her tribe fight a great battle. Franckowiak (The Maid of the Mist, 2018, etc.) is the author of a picture book starring Lelewala. Much about her novel resembles an enjoyable Disney cartoon: a princess-y protagonist, animal friends, pop-culture references, and even musical numbers. Janok sings “of how, for a long time, he’d been thinking about everything in the world that he wanted to see.” Some YA and younger readers will enjoy this fun, winking tale. Unfortunately, the story goes directly against the book’s purported ethos of not rewriting history. Some facts get altered: For example, the Onguiaahras died out in the mid-1600s; chiefs weren’t royalty, so the Native American “princess” trope is misleadingly Westernized; Chumana is a Hopi name; and dream catchers are an Ojibway tradition.
An uneven Native American tale that offers some entertaining elements.