You can go home again, a young Native American girl discovers, even when there’s no home to go to.
In this slender debut novel, set among the Quechan people of the southwestern desert, Pierce evokes a world that hardly seems worth wanting, but that exerts its pull nevertheless. Young Alice, five when we meet her, has come back to Quechan country with her mother, an alcoholic wanderer who will soon melt down in mental illness but is aware enough to bring her to the man she calls Alice’s father. He has his demons, too; as one of her chores, Mami “folds brown paper bags from Papi’s Wild Turkey whiskey bottles,” a job that yields a small mountain of sacks. Though her troubled parents are role models of a kind certain to earn a visit from Child Protective Services, Alice learns much from them; particularly valuable are constant lessons in Quechan belief, told through folktales that might make a social worker blanch. Clearly, Alice cannot remain—not after Mami suffers a breakdown—but it seems a terrible injustice that she should find herself in a suburban foster home in which “there is no noise, not even at night.” The years roll by until Alice, now 13, must go on an odyssey of her own, one that puts her in danger but in the end affirms who she is and where she belongs. The tale is a little too thin and certainly too brief, but it is well-rendered, and Pierce allows a few smiles in the proceedings that are reminiscent of Sherman Alexie, as when the announcer at a delay-plagued powwow laments the workings of Indian time: “ ‘Almost?’ he says. ‘Not quite? Okay.’ He looks out at everyone in the bleachers and says resignedly, ‘You know this is why we lost the Indian wars.’ ”
A promising debut.