Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Exquisite Book Cover for Rebecca Roanhorse's TRAIL OF LIGHTNING

Books by Native writers have given me moments where a phrase so perfectly reflects my experience, that I exclaim aloud, with joy, 'YES!' Illustrations can do that, too, and once in a great while, a book cover will have that effect.

Last week, Barnes and Noble did the cover reveal for Rebecca Roanhorse's Trail of Lightning. Rebecca is Ohkay Owingeh (the tribal nation my mom is from) and African American. When I saw the cover, my heart swelled. I wanted everyone in my Native networks to see it! The art is by Tommy Arnold.

So, I shared it widely and others did, too. It had the same kind of impact on Native people. Tiffany Midge, for example, said she wanted to make it into a poster. Tiffany is Hunkpapa Lakota. She's a writer, too. Look for her in #NotYourPrincess. Pernell Thomas is Navajo. On Twitter, he said:
This! This! This! Seeing a powerful Diné woman on the cover of a book like this is so inspirational and life changing. I can't help but think how many young Diné children will be empowered by this imagery. The ké ntsaaí!!! 😍 ahxé'héé

Trail of Lightning isn't a book for kids but I have no doubt that they'll see teens and parents reading it. And feel empowered. Some of you may be wondering why we're having this reaction. We all probably see the power that the lightning imparts, but some of us saw Maggie's mocs. Some of us saw the truck we (or someone in our family) drives on the reservation. But there are things that are not there that make the cover powerful in other ways.


Book covers that have Native women on them are usually books that are set in the past. They're written by people who aren't Native and profess to love Native people, but that ultimately don't understand the distinctions that exist amongst the hundreds of Native Nations in the U.S. and Canada. The default illustration of a Native woman, then, includes feathers, braids, fringed clothing, and a tipi, horse, and maybe a buffalo. All of that is possible for one nation--but certainly not for all of us.

In other words, Maggie is so empowering to us because she's real. She is not a stereotype. The cover is exquisite because it speaks to us as people of the present day, and as readers who want to see our selves reflected on book covers. In 2019, Native children will be able to buy Rebecca's Race to the Sun. It will be published in the Rick Riordan Presents series. Its main character is a seventh grade Navajo girl named Nizhoni Begay.

Trail of Lightning will be available on June 26, 2018. Pre-order it! It is being published by Saga Press, which is an imprint of Simon and Schuster. In the meantime, read the Q&A at Barnes and Noble, and follow Rebecca on Twitter.

The phrase, "I can't wait" is a cliché that many of us on Native social media are uttering. It doesn't do justice, though, to the emotion this cover generates. I'll close with the word 'yes' -- in Tewa (my language). That feels right.

Hąą! 


Friday, January 12, 2018

Debbie--have you seen R IS FOR REBEL by J. Anderson Coats?

A reader wrote to ask if I've seen R Is For Rebel by J. Anderson Coats. It'll be out on February 20 from Atheneum (Simon and Schuster). Here's the description:
Princess Academy meets Megan Whalen Turner in this stunning novel about a girl who won’t let anything tame her spirit—not the government that conquered her people, and definitely not reform school! 
Malley has led the constables on a merry chase across her once-peaceful country. With her parents in prison for their part in a failed resistance movement, the government wants to send her to a national school—but they’ll have to capture her first. 
And capture her they do. Malley is carted off be reformed as a proper subject of the conquering empire, reeducated, and made suitable for domestic service. That’s the government’s plan, anyway. 
But Malley will not go down without a fight. She’s determined to rally her fellow students to form a rebellion of their own. The government can lock these girls up in reform school. Whether it can break them is another matter entirely…

Woah. Lot of phrases in there that make me cringe. Like "tame her." Most people will read that and think someone is trying to stifle a girl's spirit, but when you read the next few words "the government that conquered her people" -- it is clear that we're in a very slippery space.

And Malley leads the constables "on a merry chase across her once-peaceful country"??? Native children being chased by government officials was not merry.

I am highly doubtful that Coats is going to pull this off--at least for any of us who know what the boarding schools were like. If I get a copy, I'll be back with a review.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Not Recommended: LOVING VS VIRGINIA by Patricia Hruby Powell

Eds. note: The wrong draft of my review of Powell's book was inadvertently published on Jan 10, 2018. It is being deleted in its entirety. The final draft is being closely scrutinized before publication. 

I extend my deepest apologies to Powell for the error. 

--Debbie

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Robot lifting skirt of Black child will not appear in future printings of THE ULTIMATE BOOK OF SPACE

Back in December of 2017, a mother saw The Ultimate Book of Space and bought it as a Christmas gift for her daughter. When she was home she looked through it and noticed this image on the dedication page:




Why, she asked (on social media), is that robot lifting the little girl's dress? She noted that the girl is Black and she correctly characterized the image as one that illustrates sexual harassment. Others began to talk about the image, too. One is the illustrator, who said that the robot is being driven by the girl's sibling, shown on the facing page. He characterized it as kids of all ethnicities playing peacefully together, but others rebutted him. It doesn't matter who is driving the robot. Its actions are inappropriate.

On January 5, I learned about the illustration. The Ultimate Book of Space is by Anne-Sophie Baumann, illustrated by Olivier Latyk, and translated by Robb Booker. It was published in 2016 by Twirl Books, an imprint of Chronicle Books.

I posted the image on Twitter and tagged Chronicle Books. Today (January 9), Chronicle responded, saying
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We appreciate your concern and we agree. We have contacted Twirl, the publisher of this series, and this image will be removed from all future reprints. You can email twirl@chroniclebooks.com to receive a sticker with replacement art.
Here's a screen capture of the tweet:



The mother (who works in technology), made some powerful observations. In particular she noted that the little girl was engaged in a construction project. Her work on this project is being interrupted by that robot...

One news story after another, she noted, talks about women being interrupted, at work, by men who think such actions are fine. 

What message, she asked, does that image send?

I'm glad Chronicle made the decision to remove the illustration. With it, Chronicle acknowledges the problem with the image, and their respect for parents--like this mom--who spoke up for her daughter and the images children see in their books.

I'm grateful to this mom for speaking up and encourage others to do so, too!


Thursday, January 04, 2018

Not recommended: KILL ALL HAPPIES by Rachel Cohn

Kill All Happies by Rachel Cohn came out in 2017 from Disney Hyperion.

Here's the description (the highlighting near the end is mine):

Last Call at Happies! Tonight, 8 P.M. Senior Class Only! Please with the Shhhh…. This is it. Graduation. And Vic Navarro is throwing the most epic party Rancho Soldado has ever seen. She's going to pull off the most memorable good-bye ever for her best friends, give Happies—the kitschy restaurant that is her desert town's claim to fame—a proper send-off into bankruptcy, and oh yes, hook up with her delicious crush, Jake Zavala-Kim. She only needs to keep the whole thing a secret so that her archnemesis, Miss Ann Thrope, Rancho Soldado's nightmare Town Councilwoman and high school Economics teacher, doesn't get Vic tossed in jail. With the music thumping, alcohol flowing, bodies mashing, and Thrope nowhere to be seen, Vic's party is a raging success. That is, until Happies fans start arriving in droves to say good-bye, and storm the deserted theme park behind the restaurant. Suddenly what was a small graduation bash is more like Coachella on steroids with a side of RASmatazz pie. The night is so not going as planned. And maybe that's the best plan of all.

Most people read "Coachella" and think it is a cool music festival they want to go to someday (if they haven't been already), but a whole lot of Native people cringe when they hear that word. Why? Appropriation. This is from 2014, when you could rent one of those tipis for $2200:



If you go to the website and look at the "Lake Eldorado" pages, you'll see the organizers have expanded the appropriation in even more garish ways. Obviously, these tipis invites attendees to don feathered headdresses.

I don't know who wrote the description for Cohn's book, but my reading of Kill All Happies felt very much like my reading of articles about Coachella. By that I mean it is shallow and reeks of Whiteness.

So... Vic. Vic Navarro is throwing a party.

When she's planning this big bash, Bev (she's the owner of Happies, where the party will be) tells her not to let anyone go into the theme park behind Happies. The ghosts, Bev says, will curse her if she lets anyone in (p. 43):
I'm hella scared of ghosts, just like everyone in our town. Rancho Solado was built on the original graveside of a battalion of United States Army gringos, who were killed in a minor but vicious battle during the Mexican-American War. The soldiers' campsite was ambushed by Native Americans, in cahoots with the Mexican Army, and their ghosts have been haunting the town that sprung up over their remains ever since, so we knew from paranormal activity.
We know where Vic's sentiments lie, don't we? Those poor US Army soldiers, "ambushed" by Native Americans and Mexicans. What's with that "original" remark? You know who that land originally belonged to, right?

But wait! Vic has her "Native American grandfather's dark brown hair" (p. 123):


Now I wonder: why did Rachel Cohn gave Vic that identity? It strikes me as worse than decorative. Do you see why I said this feels like Coachella?

Thankfully, reviewers at the mainstream journals didn't think much of Kill All Happies. It didn't get any starred reviews. But--it is by Cohn, who wrote Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, which will draw some readers. It didn't fare all that well at Goodreads either. Dare we hope that it'll go out of print soon? Well--I hope so.

Need I say that Kill All Happies, by Rachel Cohn, gets a NOT RECOMMENDED rating?

Not recommended: THE MANY REFLECTIONS OF MISS JANE DEMING

The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming by J. Anderson Coats came out in 2017 from Simon and Schuster. Here's the description, from the publisher's website:
High-spirited young Jane is excited to be part of Mr. Mercer’s plan to bring Civil War widows and orphans to Washington Territory—but life out west isn’t at all what she expected.
Washington Territory is just the place for men of broad mind and sturdy constitution—and girls too, Jane figures, or Mr. Mercer wouldn’t have allowed her to come on his expedition to bring unmarried girls and Civil War widows out west.
Jane’s constitution is sturdy enough. She’s been taking care of her baby brother ever since Papa was killed in the war and her young stepmother had to start working long days at the mill. The problem, she fears, is her mind. It might not be suitably broad because she had to leave school to take care of little Jer. Still, a new life awaits in Washington Territory, and Jane plans to make the best of it.
Except Seattle doesn’t turn out to be quite as advertised. In this rough-and-tumble frontier town, Jane is going to need every bit of that broad mind and sturdy constitution—not to mention a good sense of humor and a stubborn streak a mile wide.
Quite often books set in the past that ought to have Native characters have none at all, as if Native people did not exist. Sometimes an author includes Native characters but depicts them in ways that affirm existing stereotypes.

Sometimes an author includes them in order to serve the needs of the main character--who is White. That's what happens in The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming.  Jane dreams of going to school, but as the story unfolds, that doesn't work out until she meets the Norley's.

****

This story is about Jane, a 12-year-old girl who moves to Seattle in 1865 with her stepmother (Jane's father was killed in the Civil War) and her little brother (he's two). They'd learned about the opportunity to go to Seattle by way of a pamphlet that Jane refers to several times in the story. She's one of a large group who sets out from New York aboard a ship called the Continental. 

When they get to Washington Territory, Jane is surprised to see Indians. Another girl in the group, Flora, tells her (p. 95-96):
"Indians live around Seattle, lots of them, even though they're supposed to be on reservations. That's what the big treaty was about. But on the reservations there's nothing for them to do, and they go hungry. There's more than enough work to go around in Seattle for white people and Indians both. Not everyone is happy about it, but that's the way it is."
The treaty Flora is likely referring to is the Treaty of Port Elliott, signed by Chief Seeattl (commonly referred to as Chief Seattle) in 1855. Later in The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming, Coats found a way to provide readers with a good chunk of information about languages Indigenous people speak (see below). I think that sort of thing was necessary here, too. What reservation in Flora talking about? Why was "the big treaty" and why was it necessary? Why is there nothing for the Indians to do on that reservation?

When Jane gets to Seattle, she sees (p. 138),
There are Indians everywhere in town. They paddle around in their canoes and sell things like fish and berries and work in the mill and sometimes go to church. 
Later, Jean is with Mr. W (he's the man her stepmother marries) to get supplies. He pauses and speaks to an Indian woman is sitting on a blanket next to some things she's got for sale (p 158):
"Ik-tah kunsih?" Mr. W kneels and points to a tidy pile of bright blankets, the kind that were on the beds at the Occidental Hotel. 
Jane is surprised to hear Mr. W "speaking Indian" (p. 158) to the woman. He then trades a handful of bullets for two blankets and says to her "Mahsie, klootchman." Jane asks him if his wife had taught him to speak Indian before she died (him having had an Indian wife is a story the women and girls in Jane's group gossip about). He tells her that he's never been married but goes on to talk about the woman the stories are about (p. 159):
She had--has--other names, but I knew her as Louisa. I loved her something fierce. She's an Indian. A Suquamish Indian. She lives on the Port Madison reservation now. I courted her. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. I'm certainly not ashamed of her, like some people in this town think I should be. She's the one who's ashamed of me, and rightly."
Jane presses him on why they didn't marry. He says that he made mistakes and didn't understand how bad they were. He tried to make it right but the woman told him to go away and not come back. Coats doesn't fill in details and provide any hint that I can discern (if you find an explanation, please let me know what page it is on!). That is another instance in which I wish that Coats had provided more in-depth information. Without it, readers are left wondering what he did.

Jane asks him how he learned to "speak Indian" and he replies (p. 160-161):
"It's not Indian. Not Lushootseed, that is. It's Chinook. Everyone knows it around here. You have to. Don't worry, you'll learn soon enough."
"Chinook?"
"It's a mix-up of French, English, and several different Indian languages," Mr. W says. "Chinook sort of . . . happened after the Hudson's Bay Company started trading in the territory back when it was still part of Oregon."
I frown. "Indians speak different languages?"
"You've studied geography, haven't you? You know where Europe is, that it's made up of lots of different countries. Do all the people there speak European?"
"Of course not." I loved the big, colorful map Miss Bradley would have two of us hold up and the long pointer she'd use when we'd name the countries. "They speak French and Spanish and Italian and . . . oh."
"Just so with the Indians," Mr. W says. "Sometimes the languages are alike. Sometimes they're not. The nice thing about Chinook is that everyone knows some of it, so we can get what we need from one another. Come, let's help Mrs. Wright with the supplies."
I am glad to see that exchange between Jane and Mr. W and glad that Jane learns a few words, too. It is a bit clunky but fills a huge gap in what most readers likely know about Indigenous languages.

The part of the story that ultimately pushed it into "not recommended" space happens near the end of the book. By then, Jane's dream of going to school in town is not working out because she can't pay for it. On her way home she gets lost (she's in her canoe), sees two boys on a dock and calls out to them in Chinook. They wave her over to their dock (p. 252):
The taller boy is a little older than me, and he's got bronzy skin like an Indian but it's not as dark as most of the Indians I've seen. His hair is long and fluttery under his big hat, and he's grinning like it's Christmas morning. "You're a girl!" 
That older boy is William Norley. He's thirteen (a year older than Jane). The younger one is Victor. I understand that Coats is trying to include Native characters but I'm uncomfortable with the ways she (and other writers) describe skin color. I understand that White people would notice, but the noticing and writing of it into stories for children always unsettles me. I feel.... looked at. Studied. It is icky.

Anyway--the boys take her up to their cabin to meet their sister. On page 252, we learn that:
Their mama was an Indian and their dad was a white man and he got them this homestead claim and then both their parents died of a bad fever and Hannah [their older sister] had to be brought back from school to look after then." 
As readers, we're meant to understand that this Indian mother/White father is why the boys have lighter skin and fluttery hair, but still, it is awkward for me as a Native reader. And--what was their mother's tribal nation?

We don't know how old Hannah or the boys were when their parents died. We don't know what school Hannah was at. Without more information, readers are again, left in the dark. Did the mission school not want the boys when Hannah went there? Were they too young? At 13 and 10 (the time of this story), are they still too young? I'd also like to know more about that homestead. It is, after all, on what was Indigenous land. How did it come to be available to Mr. Norley?

All Hannah learned to do at the mission school, she tells Jane, is how to pray and sew. She wants her brothers to know how to read, and asks Jane to teach them. In return, she'll give Jane a goat, which Jane will use to make and sell goat cheese. That will provide her with money to continue with her own schooling.

It seems like a good thing. The boys -- who Jane thinks aren't able to go to school in town because townspeople object to Indian and White marriages -- will learn to read, thanks to Jane. Coats created the Norley's to help Jane meet her needs. They're a means to an end for Coats and for Jane, but we don't know enough about them, or about the Native people of Seattle. They're just... there. To be looked at.

As I read, I had hopes for this book, but there's too many gaps in what Coats provides to readers, I don't like how she describes Native people and the Norley's are just a there to help Jane get what she wants.

In summary: I do not recommend  The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming by J. Anderson Coats.

Debbie--have you seen THE AGONY OF BUN O'KEEFE by Heather Smith?



A reader wrote to ask if I've seen The Agony of Bun O'Keefe by Heather Smith. Published in 2017 by Penguin Teen; here's the description:
It's Newfoundland, 1986. Fourteen-year-old Bun O'Keefe has lived a solitary life in an unsafe, unsanitary house. Her mother is a compulsive hoarder, and Bun has had little contact with the outside world. What she's learned about life comes from the random books and old VHS tapes that she finds in the boxes and bags her mother brings home. Bun and her mother rarely talk, so when Bun's mother tells Bun to leave one day, she does. Hitchhiking out of town, Bun ends up on the streets of St. John's, Newfoundland. Fortunately, the first person she meets is Busker Boy, a street musician who senses her naivety and takes her in. Together they live in a house with an eclectic cast of characters: Chef, a hotel dishwasher with culinary dreams; Cher, a drag queen with a tragic past; Big Eyes, a Catholic school girl desperately trying to reinvent herself; and The Landlord, a man who Bun is told to avoid at all cost. Through her experiences with her new roommates, and their sometimes tragic revelations, Bun learns that the world extends beyond the walls of her mother's house and discovers the joy of being part of a new family -- a family of friends who care.
Busker Boy is Native, and apparently, there is a lot of Native content. At one point, someone calls Busker Boy a "drunken Indian" and Bun tries to intervene. There's also something about the actor who played the part of Tonto. I'll pick up a copy at the library and be back with a review.



Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Debbie--have you seen Olivia A. Cole's A CONSPIRACY OF STARS?

I've received questions from a few people, asking if I've seen Olivia A. Cole's young adult novel, A Conspiracy of Stars. It was released on January 2, 2018, from Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins).

Here's the description:

Octavia has always dreamed of becoming a whitecoat, one of the prestigious N’Terra scientists who study the natural wonders of Faloiv. So when the once-secretive labs are suddenly opened to students, she leaps at the chance to see what happens behind their closed doors.
However, she quickly discovers that all is not what it seems on Faloiv, and the experiments the whitecoats have been doing run the risk of upsetting the humans’ fragile peace with the Faloii, Faloiv’s indigenous people.
As secret after disturbing secret comes to light, Octavia finds herself on a collision course with the charismatic and extremist new leader of N’Terra’s ruling council. But by uncovering the mysteries behind the history she’s been taught, the science she’s lived by, and the truth about her family, she threatens to be the catalyst for an all-out war.

The description, and reviews I read at Barnes and Noble's website, make me uneasy. I have ordered a copy of the book.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Arica L. Coleman's review of Patricia Hruby Powell's LOVING VS. VIRGINIA - Not recommended


Loving Vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case (Advanced Copy) 
By Patricia Hruby Powell; illustrated by Shadra Strickland 
Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2017 
Reviewed by Arica L. Coleman, Ph.D. 
Not Recommended

Opening

Patricia Hruby Powell has written a young adult documentary novel to commemorate the 50th anniversary of this landmark Supreme Court decision in which the nine justices unanimously overturned anti-miscegenation laws (state proscriptions against interracial marriage) declaring such laws unconstitutional. 

I learned of Powell’s book a couple of months prior to its release while conducting a Google search. I reached out to the author in a comment on her blog which featured the book's cover, stating "I cannot wait to read your book. Here is a link to my work on the Lovings. There are additional links to other articles and my book!" Powell responded, stating, "you know I've read your chapter," meaning the chapter on Loving in my book That the Blood Stay Pure and she graciously sent me an advanced copy stating in an email: 
I look forward to your reading my book as well. And how I addressed the issue of Sydney Jeter.”  

The book received excellent advanced reviews on Goodreads and has since been highly recommended by School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and many other reputable experts of young adult literature. My review, however, will focus on the book’s merit as a historical text. While the conceptualization and execution of the work is noteworthy, its title claim as a documentary novel, I believe, is oversold, given Powell's penchant to ignore historical facts and her inability to place the work within its proper context of interracial marriage in the U.S. The essay is structured using the hackneyed phrase “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” First. . .

The Good

Powell’s documentary novel is an attractive oversized book with the author’s first person poetic prose set in large easy-to-read print. Much of the book has been typeset with the traditional black letters attractively spaced on white pages. Yet, interspersed throughout the book are black and white photos, and black pages with white lettering to emphasize major historical events that add to the beauty of this work. The illustrations of renowned picture book artist Shadra Strickland adds value to this aesthetically pleasing product. 

The book is well organized with a focus on the years 1955-1968. Those familiar with southern culture can easily imagine themselves at a gathering on the Loving’s front porch in rural Central Point, Virginia listening to the victorious plaintiffs take turns recounting the pains and triumphs against racialized state imposed marriage sanctions. The book’s structure is reminiscent of James McBride’s classic work The Color of 
Water.[1]


Screen captures of the narrative structure
In Loving Vs. Virginia, the narrative fluctuates beginning with Mildred, then Richard, then Mildred again. 

This pattern repeats, until the confluence of their narratives joins at the point of their marriage in Washington D.C., where it is spread out over several pages and then resumes the earlier pattern for the remainder of the book. 

Powell’s splendid writing style shines through in this work. The prose is lyrical with a flow and pace that makes the reader glide from one page to the next.  



The Bad

First, the salient problem with Powell’s book is that she characterizes the work as a “documentary novel.” In her blog post, "Documentary Novel vs Historical Fiction," writer Susan Santiago describes three definitions for "documentary novel." She also writes that Loving Vs. Virginia is only the second book she's seen that claims to be a documentary novel. Hence Powell's book would have benefited from an author’s note with a clear definition of the term and how her work fits within that definition. 

Second, assuming that Santiago’s first definition of the term, "True event + real people told in a narrative format" is the one Powell would use, there is very little primary material in Powell’s book which directly relates to the Loving case. While the majority of the photos and quotes are related to the issue of segregation and the Civil Rights Movement, the author does not adequately connect the dots to demonstrate how such events as Brown v. the Board of Education, King’s "I Have a Dream" speech, the signing of the Voting Rights Act or the Freedom Rides directly relate to the issue of miscegenation, Virginia, or the Loving case. In other words, her fictionalized narrative has little to no direct connection to the documentary “evidence” much of which reflects her own interpretations of historical events. 

Third, and this relates to the issue of documentation and its lack of specificity, Powell provides a 1958 map of the United States with the states with anti-miscegenation laws colored in gray; however, the states are not labeled; although she acknowledges that one of the Virginia counties closed its public schools for five years rather than integrate, she does not identity the location as Prince Edward County. 

Fourth, documents that are a must for this book such as The Racial Integrity Act, The Loving Supreme Court decision, the Loving’s District of Columbia Marriage License, and Mildred’s 1963 letter to the ACLU are absent.[2] The latter two documents are most important as they establish the fact that Mildred self-identified as Indian. That they were not included is a gross oversight which I will address in the next section.

The Ugly

Powell’s choice to tell this story in the first person narrative is a cautionary tale. The salient problem with this point of view is that the author’s biases and assumptions are imposed on the speakers. This problem occurs very early in the first chapter which is Mildred’s biographical narrative. There, the reader learns about her family life. Mildred identified an older sibling by noting his etched name in her school desk. “There’s J.J.,” who she assumes is “my much older half-brother James Jeter." She identified three additional half-brothers later in the chapter and explained (p. 24), “What makes them half-brothers is their mama. Daisy. She died. And then Daddy married our mama.”[3]

It is indeed understandable that Powell wanted to get across the fact that the Jeters were a blended family, but she imposed a eurocentric definition of family on southern people of color who do not quantify familial relations. In addition, Powell imposed a family history on the Jeters based on assumption, but an assumption that is inaccurate (p. 18): 

Our Jeter ancestors have lived here
in Central Point
for centuries,
hunting and fishing.
Daddy and Mama
are both part Indian.
We are also descended
from African slaves.
And their owners. 





While the Jeters ancestral roots are Indian, European, and African, there is no evidence that the Jeters were descended from slaves. In fact, Mildred’s father, Theoliver Jeter was descended from a line of white and free women of color (African, Indian or both) that stretch back at least to the 1760s. 

Moreover, Powell’s causal mention of the Jeter’s Indian ancestry on several occasions throughout the text at once acknowledges and erases Mildred’s Indian identity as the aforementioned example demonstrates. Another example is her characterization of Central Point as a tri-racial harmonious community as demonstrated by the statement (p. 28): “If I stop and watch I see . . . Indians, Negroes, Whites—all mixed together. . .Whites and coloreds—we go to different schools . . . churches, drink out of different water fountains. But our section is different.” 

Powell relies on outdated information which constructed Central Point as a colorblind society, a narrative begun by famed African American journalist Simeon Booker in his feature article on the Lovings not long after their Supreme Court win.[4]

Yet, as my work demonstrates, new information highlighting inter and intra-racial tensions in the small rural community of Central Point, tensions which persist to this day, called for a reevaluation of Booker’s earlier conclusions. Again as demonstrated here and here, Central Point was a microcosm of the lived experience of racial politics in Virginia, the South, and indeed the nation. 

What is most unfortunate is that Powell does not provide Mildred adequate voice to explore her self-identity as an Indian woman. Case in point, when Mildred and Richard arrive in the District of Columbia to obtain a marriage license, Powell's depiction of their conversation is as follows. On the left is Mildred; on the right is Richard (p. 117):



This exchange is reminiscent of a dialogue between James McBride and his mother when he discovered that she was not, as he had long suspected, the light skinned black woman she had always claimed to be, but was in fact an Ashkenazi Jew who spoke fluent Yiddish. 

Powell’s scenario does not work and in fact seemed rather bizarre. I mean, what an awkward time to have a conversation or--as it seemed here--a debate about your future wife’s racial identity. Mildred’s race never mattered to Richard before. Why make it an issue now? Her racial self-identity was indeed full of complexity and intrigue. For example, in her 1963 letter to the ACLU Mildred stated, 
“I am writing to you concerning a problem we have . . . My husband is white and I am part negro, part indian.” 

On page 176, instead of providing her readers with the letter [5] which features Mildred’s own words in her own handwriting...  [Update on January 3, 2018: In response to a reader's request, I have inserted the text of the letter. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see it.]



... Powell chose to highlight a quote from King’s Letter from A Birmingham Jail. In doing that, Powell did something that many white writers do when they imagine real people as characters: she erased the very people to whom she claims to give voice. That Powell would use Mildred’s Indian heritage as mere honorable mentions rather than provide space for this woman of color to use her own words to explore a central aspect of her self-identity is most unfortunate.[6] 

The Uglier
Now to discuss Sidney Jeter. As demonstrated in my work on the Lovings (see endnote 6 and here), Mildred was already a mother when she and Richard began dating. Sidney was born in January 1957 which places his time of conception in April 1956. According to Powell’s time line, Richard and Mildred’s courtship began in November 1955. Five months later in an entry dated May 1956 Mildred stated (p. 72): 
“Didn’t see Richard for awhile. I missed him. But he’s coming steady again.” 

By September, Mildred, who was at least five months pregnant, was in a quandary over how to break the news to Richard which she does a month later after they attended a dance together. Keep in mind that by this time a very slim Mildred is at least six months pregnant. They are seated in his car when (p. 94), “I tell him,” she says. "I tell him everything." 

The problem is, the reader does not have a clue what Powell meant by “everything.” Was the pregnancy the result of a rape? Of a one night indiscretion? The reader is left to wonder. 

I find Powell’s handling of Sidney Jeter’s paternity unconscionable.  If she felt that this aspect of the story was too controversial for a teen audience, she should have left it alone. Since she chose to include it, then she should have simply told the truth rather than perform a slight of hand by attempting to adhere to a courtship timeline which has been adequately disproven.  Unfortunately she creates complication where truth and simplicity would have been sufficient. 

Even more unacceptable is Powell’s explanation for Richard’s resuming his relationship with Mildred whom she characterized as an innocent child in need of protection.  Speaking about leaving Mildred in the dark about their impending confrontation with the county Sheriff who was sure to arrest them when he learned of the couple’s marriage, Richard stated (p. 131), “I knew she was pretty innocent. Innocence what got her Sidney—sweet Sydney. Hell, I love her innocence.” Hmmm, riddle me this—What in the hell is Powell talking about? 

And more egregious still was Powell’s use of the N-word when speaking for the Sheriff who was present when the couple arrived for their hearing at the courthouse stating (p. 151): “There’s the white trash and his nigger.” Yet, earlier in the novel when the couple was pulled over by the Sheriff who, after admonishing Richard about speeding, stated (p. 102), “Now you take that little negress home where she belongs.” Why the change in language? The use of the N-word was/is unnecessary and offensive. The argument that the use of the word is necessary for historical accuracy does not hold water in this case as it was not a direct quote, but was deliberately placed there without regard for its detriment particularly to young readers of color.

Equally offensive is Powell's dialogue on Mildred's passing, in which she states (p. 81):
I'm not real dark--'bout the color of a grocery sack--and I have good hair, but I surely couldn't pass." Or the statement by a passerby who, when seeing Mildred and Richard arm-in-arm, says (p. 81) "Nice piece o'colored ass." It is clear that Powell gave no thought to the feelings of young girls of color when she chose to include these statements in her novel.*

The Conclusion of the Matter
I attempted to review this book several times since receiving it in late 2016, but my frustration with the text caused me to set it aside with the hope that when I resumed the effort, I would feel better about the work. I think I wrestled with this book these many months because deep down I wanted to like it. I recognize the tremendous time and effort Powell put into this work for which she is to be commended. Notwithstanding, good writing cannot substitute for accuracy in historical context and facts; and the pitfalls of the first person narrative are too glaring to ignore. Its subtitle as a “documentary novel” places a claimed authoritative validity on the work that requires a standard of execution that is higher than if it were categorized as historical fiction. Being bound by both professional and personal ethics requires that I provide an honest assessment. While I applaud the concept of the work, the lack of focus, historical inaccuracies, and the imposition of the author’s personal biases have derailed what could have been an excellent book.





[1] James McBride, The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His Wife Mother (Riverhead Trade), 1997.

[2] What appears at the beginning of Powell’s book is the first page of a pamphlet issued by the Virginia State Registrar’s Office about the new Act to Preserve Racial Integrity. Text of the actual law appears on subsequent pages; documents relating directly to issues surrounding the Loving case are easily accessible via The Eugenics Archives in addition to other online sources.

[3] There is a gross imbalance between Mildred’s narrative in chapter one and Richard’s narrative in chapter two. The reader is provided extensive information about the Jeters, but nothing about the Lovings. In fact, it is Mildred, not Richard who introduces the reader to her in-laws. Where is the research on the original Mr. and Mrs. Loving?

[4] Simeon Booker, “The Couple That Rocked Courts,” Ebony Magazine, September 1967.

[5] Mildred's mention of the Attorney General appears to be an afterthought. There is no evidence of correspondence between Mrs. Loving and Bobby Kennedy. 

[6] For more on Mildred Loving’s racial identity see Arica L. Coleman, “ Beyond Black and White: Afro-Indian Identity in the Case of Loving V. Virginia,” in That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans, and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia (Indiana University Press, 2013), 151-176; and “Mildred Loving: The Extraordinary Life of An Ordinary Woman” in Virginia Women Their Lives and Times, Vol. 2 (University of Georgia Press, 2016), 313-319, for further discussion on the first-person-viewpoint see, https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2015/09/deborah-wiles-debbie-reese-and-choosing.html.      


*This paragraph added on Jan 2, 2017.

Update, January 3, 2017
Here is the text of Jeter's letter:

1151 Neal St.
N.E. Wash. D.C.
June 20, 1968 
Dear sir: 
I am writing to you concerning a problem we have. 
Five yrs. ago my husband and I were married here in the District. We then returned to Va. to live. My husband is White, I am part negro, + part indian. 
At the time we did not know there was a law in Va. against mixed marriages. 
Therefore we were jailed and tried in a little town of Bowling Green. 
We were to leave the state to make our home. 
The problem is we are not allowed to visit our families. The judge said if we enter the state within the next 30 yrs., that we will have to send 1 yr. in jail. 
We know we can't live there, but we would like to go back once and awhile to visit our families + friends. 
We have 3 children and cannot afford an attorney. 
We wrote to The Attorney General, he suggested that we get in touch with you for advice. 
Please help us if you can. Hope to hear from you real soon. 
Yours truly,
Mr. + Mrs. Richard Loving
Update, Jan 10, 2018
See Debbie Reese's review of Powell's book.