Thursday, October 27, 2016

"Soldier Sister Fly Home" by Nancy Bo Flood: A Short Review

Middle-grade novels featuring Native American protagonists are few. Finding one that is authentic, literary, and elegant is a delight. Sister Soldier Fly Home by Nancy Bo Flood and illustrated by Shonto Begay is such a story: a rich tapestry of symbol, metaphor, danger, and reconciliation.

It is 2003 and the war in Iraq has already claimed the life of Lori Piestewa, the first Native American Woman to die in battle on foreign soil.* And Tess's sister, Gaby, has just enlisted, leaving Tess feeling angry, abandoned, and afraid. To make matters worse, Gaby asks Tess to take care of her wild horse, Blue. The last thing Tess wants to do.

Not only is Tess fighting her fear of Blue, she also wrestles with being bi-racial: Navajo and Bilagáana (White). Having her feet in both worlds, she feels she is neither, feels at war with herself. Who is she? Navajo? White?

"We all have many parts Tess. We walk many paths, wear different shoes. Sometimes moccasins, sometimes sneakers. Some paths cross, some come together."

But if I follow one path and leave the other behind, will I lose one? Will I get lost?"

The quote above is a particularly powerful conversation between Tess and her Navajo grandmother, her Shima' Sani. As they draw closer, Tess begins to understand who she already is. Her relationship with her grandfather also unfolds through the story and paradoxically, it is through these Navajo grandparents that she understands more about the part of her that is 

Nancy Bo Flood also does a wonderful job of dispelling Navajo stereotypes. Tess is not an Indian who naturally loves horses, herding sheep, or weaving rugs. She is a runner, though, and her grandmother, while traditional in many ways, including the joy of a good joke, loves a good strong latte, Emily Dickinson poetry, and surprising Tess by negotiating the Internet. 

Through a tragic event, Tess learns that there are things she must do even though those are the last things she ever thought she could do. She does not answer all her questions, but she does learn to accept what she can not change. She also learns that her Navajo and White sides do not have to war with each other. The story suggests that perhaps it is not necessary to answer the question, that we can, in the end, be ourselves.

This was a short review, not worthy of the depth of symbol and meaning found in the book. I urge you to include it in your displays for Native American Heritage month, class room library, and personal bookshelves. It is just the sort of book We Need Diverse Books is calling for. And like all good stories, in the end it is about all of us. We discover ourselves and each other there.

You can find out more about Nancy Bo Flood on her website:

You can find an interview here.

There is a glossary and discussion questions at the end of the book. You can find more discussion questions here.

*It should also be noted that Lori Piestewa was half Mexican American.

You should also be aware that there are animals killed in the story, which may upset some children (and adults). 

Michele Hathaway is a writer and freelance editor. She has an M. A. in Social Anthropology and has worked in libraries in California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. She writes stories set in culturally diverse, historical and contemporary periods.

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