Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Review: The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle

Alice Winston is a twelve-year-old girl growing up on her family's struggling horse ranch in Colorado.  When her sister elopes with a cowboy riding a rodeo circuit, Alice is left to shoulder the responsibilities placed upon her by her troubled family.  Her mother, consumed by crippling depression, rarely leaves her bedroom.  Her father, desperate to save his ranch, treats Alice more like an employee than his daughter.  In an effort to keep their heads above water, her father resorts to boarding the horses of local wealthy housewives.  Alice is equally drawn to and resentful of their presence.  As time goes on, Alice discovers even those who seem to have it all can harbor secrets and heartache.

     I first came to know about this author and her work when I discovered that she would be holding a reading followed by a writer's workshop at Centenary College* this past October.  I purchased her books prior to the event and Ms. Kyle was kind enough to sign them that evening.  She read a selection from her most recent book, a collection of short stories, and conducted a Q & A afterwards.  During the workshop, Ms. Kyle discussed the various aspects of the writing process and patiently answered questions throughout the remainder of the evening.  All in all, it was a great experience to meet with a real, live, published writer!

     On with my review.  From the very beginning, it reminded me of  The Local News by Miriam Gershow (see review from 7/26/11).  Here is a young girl who has become almost invisible amidst the turmoil of her parents.  Her father needs her, yes- but as a ranch hand and conspirator.  He doesn't notice when she begins to outgrow her clothes or her hair needs a trim or when she's simply exhausted.  Her mother is too consumed by her depression to be a mother to her daughter.  Her sister has left because the pressure to be the star performer has become too much to bear; she wants more than what life on a horse ranch has to offer.  Alice is vulnerable, as twelve-year-olds are, but she doesn't want to appear as though she can't manage.
     I found myself wanting to shake these people until they realized they have a child who needs them.  That it was so easy to connect with these characters and their experiences is a testament to how beautifully Ms. Kyle was able to bring them to life.  Ms. Kyle captures the essence of what it is to be a twelve year-old-girl who is caught up in the current created by the people in her life.  Beautiful and eloquent, this novel will reverberate with its readers long after they've read the last page.

About the Author
Aryn Kyle is a graduate of the University of Montana writing program.  She is the author of several critically acclaimed short stories as well as the collection Boys and Girls Like You and Me (Reading Group Guides).  Aryn Kyle lives in New York City.  Learn more about her by visiting her website.

The God of Animals: A Novel by Aryn Kyle
ISBN:  978-1-4165-3324-5
ISBN:  978-1-4165-3325-2 (paperback)
Published by Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Author website:  http://www.arynkyle.com/
Publisher website:  http://www.simonandschuster.com/

*Centenary College is my alma mater, nestled in Hackettstown, New Jersey.  For more information about Centenary College and its programs, please visit their website:  http://www.centenarycollege.edu/




Monday, February 27, 2012

Review: One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus

 May Dodd is a young woman living in 1875 Chicago.  She has been sent by her well-to-do family to live in an asylum after shaming them by having not one, but two children out of wed lock.  When our government forges a deal with the Cheyenne to provide them with one thousand white brides, she conspires to enlist.  Soon she and the other women who have signed on are traveling west to a vast prairie that has yet to be tamed.  May chronicles her experiences, those of her fellow brides and their new families, in her journals.  

     I love historical fiction, especially tales that center around Native American culture.  One of the coolest things about this book is that this scenario actually happened.  Jim Fergus gives us a glimpse of what inspired this book in the introduction.  In 1854, a Cheyenne chief requested that the U.S government provide them with 1,000 white women as a means of integrating themselves into the white man's world.  They were flatly denied.  Fergus' story is an account of what these women may have experienced had they been accepted.
     Through the journals of the fictional May Dodd, we are given a glimpse of the thrilling and often terrifying experience of a group of women looking for a new life.  May is a woman with a progressive manner of thinking, as shown by her lack of marriage certificate before bearing two children.  She is strong and has endured much in her young life which makes her perfect to take on the role of a mother figure to some of the other women.  I'm not sure how believable the principles of her character are given the time period.  May is a very liberal-minded woman.  However, her strength and resilience are a boon to some of the other women who have a hard time adjusting to life with the Indians and coping with some of the traumatic experiences they face.

     And they do face traumatic experiences.  It's inevitable.  They are living with a nomadic people and while they are very spiritual, some of that sprituality involves acts of unimaginable brutality.  It's also during a time in our history when the conflict between the Native Americans and the whites are coming to a head.  The Black Hills are glittering with gold, drawing prospectors and negating yet another treaty made with the Indians.  May tries to implore her Indian husband to quietly and peacefully move their people to a reservation.  But they are a proud people whose trust in the treaties and devotion to the land are destined to have disastrous results.

     From forbidden romances to uniting with "savages", Fergus uses words as a paintbrush, creating  this time in American history with vivid images and evoking strong emotions.

About the Author
     Jim Fergus is an experienced freelance journalist whose work has appeared in various national magazines and newspapers.  He is the author of the novel The Wild Girl: The Notebooks of Ned Giles, 1932
as well as two nonfiction books,  A Hunter's Road: A Journey with Gun and Dog Across the American Uplands (An Owl Book) and The Sporting Road: Travels Across America in an Airstream Trailer--with Fly Rod, Shotgun, and a Yellow Lab Named Sweetzer.  He divides his time between Colorado, Arizona, and France.

This novel contains an interview with the author.  For more information visit: http://www.readinggroupgold.com/

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus
ISBN:  978-0-312-18008-9/ 1st St. Martin's Griffin Edition 
ISBN:  978-0-312-19943-2/ 2nd St. Martin's Griffin Edition:  July 2011
Author's website:  http://www.jimfergus.com/
Publisher's website:  http://www.stmartins.com/