by Jackie Gibson Villarreal

"I love you, and I love the person you are. Not because you are white, Indian, or half of each. I just want to make you happy and to be with you."

A Mormon family in the 1800s is forced to flee from their Missouri home when religious persecution puts their peaceful livelihood at risk. While making their way to the Dakota Territory, and evading violence from outsiders, they begin to harbor a new fear of being captured by Indians. Shown through young Amanda's perspective—an independent and compassionate daughter and sister—this historical fiction novel immediately begins with all that is at stake in their courageous transition to a better life. Amanda's coming-of-age story—spanning the evolution of a young girl reluctant to grow up and finally becoming a young woman embracing love and starting a family—is expressed through a sentimental tone akin to Louisa May Alcott's Little Women or Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. Amanda deftly walks the line between respecting her elders' guidance and daring to keep a splendid secret amongst herself and her siblings.

Throughout the ambitious time frame of Amanda's upbringing, combat scenes and significant trials crop up amidst the family's journeys. Amanda and her siblings are acquainted with prejudice and loss at a young age, forcing them to grow up too fast. And as Amanda holds true to the importance of family values, she is not quick to judge a nearby Indian tribe for their differences, keeping in mind that those who call others "savage" are demonstrating the same ignorance as those who had made it necessary for her family to start anew. Amanda leaves home because the society that she belongs to does not accept her, and instead, she is accepted and welcomed by a culture in which she doesn't belong. When her home is broken, another unlikely family embraces her.

Villarreal does a marvelous job of incorporating the atmosphere of an age gone by—with horses, carriages, washbasins, and where one's society stretches only to those living on nearby farms. She sets the scene of a quiet life, where time spent with family is of the highest priority, and a subtle layer of propriety runs beneath every conversation and gesture. Apart from accurate and timely dialogue, two running narratives propel Amanda's story. There is her first-person point of view, as well as the third-person experience of Two Feathers, a half-white Sioux warrior and future chief of his people. Theirs is a touching love story, interwoven with the acceptance of cultural differences and the merging of two very different worlds. Witnessing their growing affection through both Amanda's and Two Feather's eyes—two starkly different outlooks—is a unique and insightful approach. However, when these distinct voices come together in the same chapter, the shift between first and third person may cause some confusion in the mind of the reader.

Overall, though, Villarreal has created a sentimental and enticing read of a young woman finding her way in the world, resounding with the message that all families are essentially the same in their desire for peace. What sets people apart is how they respond when that peace is threatened. Amanda responds with love.

Return to USR Home