A 10th grade girl searches for belonging.
From day one, as the “only white kid” at Smoholla Indian School on the Colville Reservation where she now lives, Helen White hears the laughter and feels the stares from her Native classmates. To survive the bullying, Helen pulls “further and further away,” trying to make herself invisible. Soon, Helen meets King BigElk, a “top / of the food chain” senior known “for being / wild.” Driven by a desire to belong, Helen casts off her “good girl” persona in an attempt to impress him. Though she gains acceptance, her decisions threaten to cross a dangerous line. While the character motivation and plot feel appropriately revealed within the free verse format, Native readers and those familiar with Native cultures will notice what reads like a checklist for writing a reservation story, whether it’s moving into mom’s boyfriend’s “trailer,” spreading “sage and sweetgrass” smoke “with an eagle feather,” HUD housing, a mother in rehab, an absentee father, eighteen money, or hard-drinking, pot-smoking, late-night parties. Other readers may not recognize as harmful stereotypes the litany of tropes portrayed. Additionally, by centering Helen as the “outsider” and describing her as a “minority” who sees herself as a “target” or feels she has “stopped existing,” Native characters become a supporting cast for serving the white character on her journey to self-awareness.
A novel for reluctant readers that perpetuates egregious and damaging stereotypes. (Verse novel. 14-18)