A coming-of-age tale of a Onondaga youth applying the ancient lessons of lacrosse to the strictures of reservation life in turn-of-the-century New York state.
Celeste’s debut novel begins with an in-depth first-person account of Pontiac’s uprising of 1763, wherein Pontiac explains both the importance of lacrosse, or Bagadowe, as a rite of manhood and the existence of a prophecy that tells of an eagle, carrying a bloody stick, that will one day drive the Europeans from America. The story then jumps to the Onondaga reservation south of Syracuse in 1909, where the tale is taken up by Fallen Tree, a descendent of Pontiac and grandfather of the novel’s protagonist, Jake Harwood. Jake’s is a very different era for Native Americans than that of his famous ancestor: one of shrunken lands, poverty, Christian missionaries and Bureau of Indian Affairs agents. Jake, reared on the traditions of Bagadowe and Native resistance, must navigate school, love and social rivalries, learning to be both a Native American and a man. Ending in a cliffhanger, the book is the first volume of a duology; the sequel will detail Jake’s life at the Carlisle Industrial School for Indians. The strong, efficient prose keeps the tone of the work serious but not unsmiling, and native issues add interest to this action-heavy YA novel. Celeste has a talent for fashioning the sports sequences that lie at the story’s center. Lacrosse doesn’t feel merely symbolic; it’s imbued with a vitality that makes the scenes dance. Celeste shows a community simultaneously decadent and triumphant, bastardized and dynamic. These traits coexist in Jake himself, who proves a multilayered (if familiar) hero for this formative tale. Though many forces, present and past, weigh upon Jake’s sense of responsibility, he reads as a full enough character to make the reader believe that Jake will, in time, figure things out for himself.
A spirited debut that should satisfy fans of both sports and historical YA fiction.