Two sides of the same story are told through the eyes of a Native American boy and a young English apprentice
By Marcus Sedgwick
The book falls roughly into two halves; the first brings us straight into the world of a Pokanoket boy as he embarks on the ritual that will make him a man; the second half focuses on an English boy, John Wakeley, who is sent away to become an apprentice cooper after the death of his father.
Little Hawk, the 11-year-old Native American, must survive three months alone in the winter wilderness in order to come of age. His father takes him into the forest blindfolded, spins him around and leaves him to survive on his wits and a couple of tools. The tools themselves paint a picture of the book's central theme. Little Hawk's tomahawk was made by allowing the twisted twin stems of a sapling to grow tightly around the axe head over many years; and yet he also owns a steel knife, bartered from the white settlers by his father and given to Little Hawk as he embarks on his adventure. This knife alone is a hint of things to come.
Susan Cooper allows us time to savour the soon-to-disappear world of the Native American with a sequence of unflinching episodes, beginning with Little Hawk's fight with a hungry wolf. But it's as the young Pokanoket warrior returns to his family that this novel really becomes great, for Cooper does something with the narrative that had me holding my breath until I was sure she was really going to go through with it. I won't give the game away, but I will say that I whispered a silent "thank you" to a writer bold and clever enough to do something so daring.
For more on Native-themed books, see Empire of the Summer Moon's Accuracy and Mark of the Mississippians E-Book.