Review: The Mourning Wars by Karen Steinmetz

 

Title: The Mourning Wars

Author: Karen Steinmetz

Publisher:  Roaring Brook Press

ISBN: 978-1596432901

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Based on true events, THE MOURNING WARS is a gripping, powerful, and utterly memorable historical novel. In 1704, Mohawk Indians attacked the frontier village of Deerfield, Massachusetts, killing 50 and kidnapping 112 more, including John Williams, a Puritan minister and prize hostage, and his children.

This is Eunice’s remarkable story, fictionalized but based on meticulous research, about a seven-year-old girl’s separation from her family, harrowing march to Canada, gradual acceptance of her new Native American life, and ultimate decision at 16 to marry an Indian and reject her stern father’s pleadings to return to the fold.

Review:

When I saw this book, I immediately wanted to read it.  I love books about Native Americans, and the setting looked like something right up my alley.  I admit that reading it was rough going at first, because I found it difficult to immerse myself in the third person, present tense narrative, but as I continued to read, I was caught up in Eunice’s new life with the Mohawk family that adopted her.  This was a great read, and Eunice’s struggle to understand who she is and where she belonged was very, very compelling.

When Eunice was 7, the small settlement of Deerfield is attacked by a group of Mohawks warriors.  During the nightmare journey that follows, she loses her mother and several of her siblings as they are marched to Canada through the freezing snow.  Eunice is separated from her father, a preacher and esteemed member of the Deerfield community, and she’s adopted by Atironta and Kenniontie.  The couple lost their daughter to an illness, and the raid was sanctioned by the tribe’s leaders to replace people who died from sickness or from the clashes between the warring French and British colonists whose European war has trickled to the colonies. 

Eunice at first waits for her father to pay a ransom for her and take her home, but as the years stretch forward and she hears nothing from her English family, she begins to settle into her new life.  She is always troubled by her feelings of abandonment, and this continues to eat away at her, even as she finds contentment with her new family and friends.  As she begins to feel comfortable and at home, she begins to fear that her father will come and get her.  This constant internal struggle was heartbreaking.  Even though Atironta and Kenniontie love her unconditionally, Eunice is still stung by the thought that her father has forgotten her.  There is an emptiness inside of her that nothing can fill, and this emotional turmoil kept me glued to the pages.

The Mourning Wars unfolds through little slice of life activities.  They slowly build together to create a fascinating snapshot of what life might have been like before Twitter, Facebook, and, heck, even the USPS.  Though occasionally the narrative was a bit too textbookish, I enjoyed this story.  A lot.  There is so much emotion packed into these pages, as a brave young girl works through who she is, and where she’s meant to be. 

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien YA Novel Review

 

Title: Birthmarked

Author: Caragh M O’Brien

Publisher:  Roaring Brook Press

ISBN: 9781596435698

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

IN THE ENCLAVE, YOUR SCARS SET YOU APART, and the newly born will change the future.

Sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone and her mother faithfully deliver their quota of three infants every month. But when Gaia’s mother is brutally taken away by the very people she serves, Gaia must question whether the Enclave deserves such loyalty. A stunning adventure brought to life by a memorable heroine, this dystopian debut will have readers racing all the way to the dramatic finish.

Wow, Gaia is one strong person.  After her parents are arrested, she has to work through the puzzle that she is suddenly confronted with.  The young midwife is shocked and bewildered, and she’s held in a state of suspended animation.  She’s not a rebel, she follows the rules, and she has a duty to the Enclave to assist with the births of the babies in her sector.  Then she has a duty to turn the first three infants born in each month over to the authorities so that they can be raised on the other side of the wall that separates Wharton, where she lives, from the Enclave, where the privileged classes live in comfort and luxury.  She’s proud to do her job, because it’s for the good of everyone.

But is it, really?  I love how Gaia slowly begins to question everything that she has ever believed.  Having the one anchor in her life ripped away from her casts her adrift, and makes her see the world around her with new eyes.  She doesn’t understand how her parents could have done anything wrong, and this makes her re-evaluate everything in her life.  Her father is a tailor, and her mother is an accomplished midwife, and they both followed the rules and lived unremarkable lives.  Or did they?  Gaia slowly begins to learn that they were keeping secrets big enough to put their lives at risk, and that’s when she begins to learn to keep some secrets of her own.

I loved how Gaia’s character develops from a docile, blindly obedient servant for the greater good to a keen-eyed, open minded young woman who opens her eyes to the truths around her.  Sucked into a forbidden world, she finds the courage to do the impossible and find a way into the Enclave.  Once there, she will do anything to free her parents.  That takes guts, and I admired her resolution to give up everything to save her parents.

When your life is on the line, a forbidden romance becomes even more enticing, right?  Gaia encounters Capt Leon Gray several times, and he imprints himself in her mind after each meeting.  Each encounter is fraught with intense feelings.  Is Leon really attracted to her?  Or is he just out to learn the secrets she’s keeping?  Leon was raised inside the Enclave, and he has been surrounded by beauty and perfection for his entire life.  Gaia’s face is marred by a disfiguring scar, and she doesn’t believe that he could ever be interested in her.  Their blossoming relationship is interesting and complex, and trust is not easily won on either side.  Leon is a self-righteous prig when we first meet him, but as his world is turned on its ear, he begins to think for himself too.  He had me completely won over by the end of the book.

Though the story dragged a bit at the beginning, the plot deepens and the pacing kicks into high gear.  The ramp up to the end was especially breathless, and I couldn’t put the book down.  That was bad, because I have to get up early for work! Gaia’s world is vivid and textured with many layers, and it is revealed a little bit at a time, like fraying fabric.  I was left with a lot of questions, so I was happy to hear that there will be a sequel. 

Birthmarked is a thought-provoking read with likable characters and an intriguing premise.  It keep me guessing, and better yet, it lingered in my thoughts after I turned the last page.  It really made me think.  I am looking forward the spending more time with Gaia, and discovering more truths about her world.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher