If you mention the "Great Sioux Uprising Of 1862", most will think you mean the later 1876 conflict of Custer and the Battle Of The Little Big Horn". Although our biggest and bloodiest Indian war (hundreds of settlers killed), since it happened during the Civil War, it has remained obscure except to historians and those, like me, who grew up in the Dakota/Minnesota region. All of us including westerner writer Larry McMurtry have been waiting for a fictional treatment of the tragic drama. The "Abercrombie Trail Series" by Candace Simar, a Minnesota native is sucessfully and impressively filling that vacuum. Although Birdie is the third novel in the fiction series, it and the previous two, Abercrombie Trail and Pomme de Terre, are "stand alone" stories.
It's now 1873. Scandinavian sodbusters Evan and Inga Jacobson and family continue to struggle to survive and find the land of milk and honey, brass ring or big rock candy mountain. Orphaned and adopted niece, seventeen-year-old Ragna Larson, is haunted by her sister, Birdie, who disappeared in the Indian uprising. Could she have survived? Might she one day show up? Without knowing or closure, can she plan her future, return to the old country or, perhaps, contemplate marriage with a young man like Anders.
In an age of the nanny state, high expectations of government aid, protection and support, a healthy dose of stark, American literary realism exemplified through individual will and self reliance reminds us how spoiled and, yes, soft we've all become. Remember the phrase: "dirt poor"? Post Great Depression readers meaning most of us will cringe at what pioneers or our ancestors especially women had to endure. Gee, no air conditioning! How did people prevail without FDIC, crop insurance, food stamps, Obamacare or FEMA? The novel's images of grasshoppers covering the ground and everything are just how my father described it --crunch, crunch with every step!
Some readers, especially from the upper Midwest, will be reminded of Rolvaag's 1925 Norwegian classic pioneer novel, Giants In The Earth and its lesser known sequel, Peder Victorious. For generations, this novel of Scandinavian farmers settling and surviving in Minnesota and the Dakotas was required reading in public schools and colleges. Some may also remember Vilhelm Moberg's Swedish four book series: The Emigrants and have even seen the film adaptation with Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullmann. For a knowledge and understanding of the historical background, see if your library has Over The Earth I Come: The Great Sioux Uprising Of 1862 (1993) by Duane Schultz and/or Dakota Dawn by Michno published just last year.
In reading Birdie, I also thought of my great grandmother Lowell who came west in a covered wagon. To a seven year old, she seemed scary and mean--I think she even smoked a pipe. Now I know she was simply a product of her harsh and brutal environment. Without her toughness, no nonsense, and iron will, she would not have lived to be 88, seen her great grand children, and I would not have known her!
272 pages. 2012 Spur Award winner for best "western" YA novel and recommended especially for female readers.
Recommended by: Robert L. Hicks, retired high school librarian, Arkansas City, Kansas USA