Dear Rose Christo:
“This is the Fourth World,” Grandpa Many Feathers says.
His voice is scratchy, low, like tires over gravel, it takes me by surprise.
“What,” I start, nervous. “What do you mean?”
He turns his head away, a tinge of sadness in his eyes. I get a good look at the scar marring his profile. It’s jagged, like somebody took broken glass to his face.
“Humans,” Grandpa says. “We keep screwing up. So the gods keep destroying reality. Starting over from scratch. This is the Fourth World,” Grandpa says. “It won’t be the last”.
The story opens with fifteen-year-old Maya Many Feathers coming to live at a Hopi reservation of with her mother. The reservation is her mother’s former home, but they left when Maya was far too young to remember. When her mother decides to go back to school, she returns with Maya – supposedly it is to help them financially, but as we will learn, coming back and reconnecting with their culture will help them both emotionally as well.
The theme of coming back to your Native American roots is the main theme in many works by this writer and it is certainly very important in this book. Maya does not know much about her culture, but when she comes back and reconnects with her people, with her family, she also reconnects with her heritage. The more she learns about what it meant to be one of Hopi Tribe, the more it makes her feel happy and secure. Maya reconnects with her grandfather and her cousins, learns to appreciate her friends in school, and learns what their common heritage means for her and other members of the tribe.
Maya is a flawed character, but the more the story progressed, the more I liked her; she had ability to engage in self-reflection and to recognize and acknowledge her mistakes. For example, Maya acknowledged that she was being a bully in her former school and seemed to genuinely regret it.
Until I was about 70% of the way through the story on my Kindle I thought that the other main theme in this story was about teenage friendship, but eventually it turned out to be a story of first love between two teenage girls. In a way I was delighted, because the writer created such a beautiful and delicate connection between the girls, but I was also surprised because I completely missed the signs that anything more than friendship was developing between them. If Maya had been struggling with her sexuality, finding out along the way that she is attracted to women, I could understand how it was done – she thinks that she wants to be best friends with Torie, and then suddenly the reader realizes at the same time as the character realizes that she wants to be more than friends.
“She’s got a new headband, pink, with silver stripes. I try and ignore the way, it pushes her blond hair off her forehead. I try not to think that her face looks like it was made to be kissed. I can see it in the softness of her sharp cheeks, in the smallness of her nose and chin. Her mouth reminds me of carnation, especially when she scrunches it off with displeasure.
I think I’m screwed.”
However, we learn in the last quarter of the story that Maya knew she was attracted to girls for quite some time. Therefore I was a little confused, but I decided that I was going to go with an “I just missed the signs” interpretation and what read as developing friendship to me was in actuality a developing love story.
Because I have read several other books by this author by now, I spotted recurring threads in her writing, in particular the love between parents and children, and how parental sacrifices and parental abandonment shape the children’s development. But in no way did these common themes make this story feel repetitious or less appealing to me. I like the secondary characters in her stories, and in this book I also fell in love with Maya’s cousins and siblings, with her mother, who would do anything for her child, but who at the same time is portrayed as a flawed character and somebody who still has her inner child pretty much alive inside of her. I did wish for better development of some secondary characters – most of them were interesting, and I wanted to see and get to know them better than I did.
Overall this is a quiet, gentle story where the main characters drive the story forward and not much else happens plot-wise. I recommend it. B-