This entertaining yet thought provoking short, YA novel is set in the American southwest and Northern Mexico of 1877. The Canadian author has the commonsense that any serious and authentic story of the region must include its three groups of inhabitants: Mexicans, Native Americans, and White Americanos. Sixteen-year-old James Doolen leaves home and civilization on a quest to find his father who abandoned him and his mother ten years earlier. His motives are beyond curiosity and sense of family. Part of his personal identity is out there somewhere. While "on the road", Jim encounters a representative array of quirky characters from a half breed "Homeric" hermit named Wellington who likens experiences as stories to an Apache called, Nah-kee-tats-an. A worn copy Of Melville's Moby Dick gives the reader a thematic hint.
From death defying picaresque experiences such as being robbed, beaten, and surviving in the desert or bildungsroman (coming-of-age) adventurous situations demanding moral decisions from having to kill to recognizing the savages from the civilized, Jim learns about both his father's past and the history of the region including our fathers' sin of scalp hunting. Jim ponders, ' " Odd, the Apaches we've met are nothing like the ones I read about in the dime novels...they don't seem like the savage killers everyone says they are...If the stories about scalp hunters... are true, they've a right to be angry. " '
The novel's young protagonist as a victim of history and circumstance is typical of the author's other YA works. Whether it's the American or Spanish Civil War (Death On The River-- see AbookandaHug.com review or Lost In Spain) or the World Wars--And In The Morning,Four Steps To Death, reality for teens often means being thrust into violent and adult situations--think of today's image of of the kid carrying an AK-47 rifle or some one's eighteen-year-old under fire in Afghanistan. Is Mr. Wilson's too preoccupied with war and violence? Without exposure to the real world, how do teens learn to cope and become self-reliant? When should that exposure happen? After Graduation? Why does the high school library have so many "war" books? Why is our government's biggest expenditure the Defense Department!
My impression is teen readers appreciate authors like John Wilson because they don't write down to them and really do consider them young adults instead of mere "kids". Although he places his YA characters in difficult, mature, and challenging situations, they do escape their arrested development and seem to be capable of both fast tracking a steep coming-of-age learning curve while also discovering and being shown a moral path towards adulthood. YA readers like to believe they too have sufficient fortitude and courage to measure up. Adults might think twice the next time they refer to eighteen-year-olds or even twenty-five-year-olds covered by the family health insurance plan as KIDS!
How will Jim's coming-of -age journey end. Well, as with Galahad, Cooper's young Deerslayer, Huck, Studs Lonigan, and all youth, Jimmy Doolen's adventure, discovery, and search for meaning isn't merely one challenge or test. As with Chaucer, life is a series of tales. Ghost Moon (2011), the second novel in what is called the "Desert Legends trilogy", continues the odyssey.
People from other countries are always surprised how little Americans know about foreign countries. How many Canadian authors can you name? Robertson Davies and Margaret Atwood? William Gibson? How about John Wilson? (Book 1 of the Desert Legends Trilogy)
Recommended by Robert L. Hicks, Librarian, Arkansas City, Kansas, USA - [email protected]