Review of Crooked River

I’m posting from Chicago, where I’m visiting my daughter for a few days. While it rained yesterday, today is supposed to be warmer and sunny–so I’m hoping for a walk along the lake to get my creative juices flowing!

I recently came across a really impressive middle grade historical novel. It’s CROOKED RIVER, by Shelly Pearsall. It was published a few years ago, but somehow I managed to miss it until now. Set in 1812, it’s the story of a family on the Ohio frontier and what happens when the father brings an Indian to their home to be imprisoned while he awaits trial for the murder of a trapper. The father is a cruel and vindictive man, with little empathy for anyone, even his own daughters.

The narrator of the story is a young girl, who at first is horrified at the idea of a “savage” living in their home. The care of “Indian John” is left to Rebecca–called Reb– and her sister Laura, while the men of the family are off working in the fields each day. The two girls are desperately afraid of him at first. After a visit from a white man who is a friend of Indian John, and plans to defend him at his trial, they come to believe in his innocence. Because they are kind to him, he begins leaving small gifts for Reb.

Indian John tells his own story in poetry, mixing words from his Ojibwe language in with English. Gradually, the reader, along with the two sisters, discovers the truth. John’s trial is a sham and he is sentenced to hang. With the help of the “Thunder Beings” from the spiritual world, and human intervention from Reb, tragedy is averted.

This is a powerful story, compelling and suspenseful until the very end. Reb takes positive steps to save John, and we never doubt that this will be a turning point in her life.

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