The Mourning Wars

The Mourning Wars

“Eunice, you must wake up!”… “Be still, my girl, and do as I say. Our lives depend upon it. You must not make a sound but only listen. We are to be taken captive.” Meet, in this amazing adventure based on actual historical events, Eunice Williams, a seven-year-old girl who is the daughter of an English Puritan Pastor living in the village of Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1703. Her days are filled with chores, Bible study, and learning how to be a good little lady. Even at such a young age, Eunice knows that she must not stray from her village: there are Indian settlements nearby, and tensions are growing between the Indians and the English. But in October of that fateful year, the unthinkable happens: Eunice and her family are taken captive by Mohawk Indians. They are forced to walk toward a Canadian settlement, and she is taken to a village called Kahnawake, where she is adopted into a family that has lost a daughter. In a process called a “mourning war,” native peoples sometimes adopted Europeans into their tribes to replenish population lost to war or disease. Eunice is to be raised to eventually take the place of her namesake, Gannestenawi. Until then, she is named A’onote, and she grows up with a loving family, learning to live as the Canienga people live. The passage of years brings her the warmth of family and friends, yet she never loses the flashbacks of memory to the time of her youth in Deerfield. She learns that her birth-mother has not survived the captivity march; nor has her brother or the family’s two slaves. She knows that her father has been held prisoner in a power struggle between the English and the French in Montreal, and eventually she learns that he has remarried and that she now has two half-siblings, yet she doesn’t understand why he never comes to rescue her. Eventually, Eunice becomes A’onote in every sense, ultimately even losing her command of the English language, and, at age 16, makes an amazing choice. As a young adult, she finally begins to understand the unusual set of circumstances that make her such a valuable pawn in the political posturing between France and England. Will she choose to remain with the Canienga, or will she return to the world of the English? Steinmetz’ debut novel brings to the modern world the fictionalized experiences of a little-known historical figure. Using primary sources to bring A’onote to life, Steinmetz does a credible job of exploring the vortex of relationships between the Indians and the French and English. She explains the religious strife between the Puritans and the French Catholics and makes clear that the native people had rich spiritual beliefs before the Europeans arrived. A’onote is a heroine the reader comes to care for deeply, and the story’s supporting cast of characters also becomes important to the reader. Rich details of what life must have been like for a girl and young woman in the complex, matriarchal society of the Canienga weave authenticity into this tale, which is enhanced by the author’s carefully-rendered use of the Canienga language. It will be exciting to see what this new voice in historical fiction for upper elementary/middle school readers will bring our way next. There are still many voices of the past waiting to be heard. N.B.: describes Eunice’s first menstrual period, but the terms “menstruation” or “period” aren’t used. The experience is described and given a Canienga term and is handled as a positive transition to young womanhood. Also, Eunice’s brother’s participation in a raid on Indians and the subsequent sale for bounty of scalps is described, but it is just mentioned—there is no gory detail. I would feel comfortable with 6th grade girls and up reading this wonderful story. Recommended by Shari Shaw, Librarian.

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