The daughter of a Navajo woman and a white man struggles with her older sister’s deployment to Iraq and her own sense of self.
Thirteen-year-old Tess feels abandoned when Gaby, six years older, shocks the whole family by enlisting in the military. Worse, Tess must reluctantly accept the responsibility to care for Gaby's feisty horse. Flood nicely captures Tess’ anxiety as she makes several attempts to befriend her sister's aggressive stallion, as well as her sadness as a lone sibling left behind. She feels out of place both at boarding school in Flagstaff, where she’s taunted for being an “Indian,” and at home on the Rez, where kids call her an “apple”: red on the outside but white on the inside. She slowly comes to peace with her sister’s absence and her own identity during a summer idyll with her grandmother, taking care of the family’s sheep in the canyon. Tess narrates her story with a healthy sprinkling of Navajo, and though she is likably earnest, there is a lot of telling—to Gaby, her family, and readers—about her cultural clashes with her peers and not enough showing. This story loses its way by not letting readers into the modern world of the Native American teenager, who would more likely write rap songs than ceremonial poetry. At times Tess’ grandmother feels more part of that world, with her purchase of Day-Glo green sneakers, than Tess does.
Heartfelt and poignant, the tale nevertheless feels a little out of touch. (Historical fiction. 10-14)