November 12, 2015

Review of Crazy Horse's Girlfriend

Crazy Horse's GirlfriendMargaritte is a sharp-tongued, drug-dealing, sixteen-year-old Native American floundering in a Colorado town crippled by poverty, unemployment, and drug abuse. She hates the burnout, futureless kids surrounding her and dreams that she and her unreliable new boyfriend can move far beyond the bright lights of Denver that float on the horizon before the daily suffocation of teen pregnancy eats her alive.

About the Author

Erika T. Wurth is Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee and was raised on the outskirts of Denver. She teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University and was a writer-in-residence at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Crazy Horse's Girlfriend: gripping, heart-wrenching narrative
By Story Circle Book Reviews on September 1, 2014

Sixteen-year-old Margaritte is constantly planning an escape route from her miserable circumstances. A mix of Apache, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and white, she finds her Idaho Springs, Colorado, home nothing less than depressing. Beyond ennui at home, Margaritte has to deal with the daily stress of her volatile alcoholic father and a mother who can be equally explosive, while helping care for her innocent six-year-old twin sisters. She's tired of living on the cusp of poverty, as well as being surrounded by teens who have no future aspirations. High on their chart of escapism is drugs and alcohol, while many girls succumb to teenage pregnancy--a statistic that Margaritte has no intention of becoming. Ironically, Margaritte, who drinks and smokes pot, sees the wads of cash she hopes to bring in as a drug dealer and her new love, Mike Walker, as the ticket out of her loathsome life. Yet the hope of a brighter future suddenly appears dismal when Margaritte learns that she's pregnant.

In her debut novel, Wurth has created a plethora of hardened teens and their means of survival in unforgiving conditions. The story's protagonist narrator is Margaritte, whose insistence on not becoming a loser truly earmarks her as an underdog, as she struggles to go against the grain of her impoverished society. The language Wurth uses, which includes Lakota terminology, is raw and visceral, reflecting just how tough these teens are, especially Margaritte.

Kudos to Wurth for producing a gripping and heart-wrenching narrative that is not only a must read for young adult and older readers, but also a wonderful addition to Native American literature.

No heroes; just choices.
By Elizabeth Harper on December 23, 2014

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it relevant, especially its description of the torment and ambivalence involved in making life decisions in messy, difficult, imperfect circumstances. The main character is engaging and sympathetic. Highly recommended for anyone interested in domestic violence, social policy, young adults, Native Americans, alcoholism, and drug addiction.

The prose is gritty and hard, but soul is there as well.
By D. S. Atkinson on October 4, 2014

I love the voice in this book. The prose is gritty and hard, but soul is there as well. Whether you're in it for the grit or the soul, or in it for both like me, I don't think you can help but dig this one. It's particularly impressive for a first novel.
Rob's review

I'd say Crazy Horse's Girlfriend was a solid entry in the Native American category for YA fiction. It's about as good as it gets for depictions of gritty, urban Indian life. Perhaps because Wurth grew up in this environment, I could easily believe in it.

A few problems in non-Native areas kept me from deeming this an exceptional story:

  • Her main support system is her cousin Jake and her best friend Julia, but these characters disappear for most of the novel. Margaritte ends up relying on secondary characters and predictably bonding with them.

  • Margaritte is supposedly an experienced drug dealer who hangs around with druggies, but doesn't recognizes the signs of drug abuse in her boyfriend Mike. If a straight arrow like me sees the problem before she does, that's bad.

  • Margaritte supposedly loves reading, but she's never shown reading and spends no significant time at it. As someone who was a 16-year-old reader like her, I can tell you: you don't finish thick Stephen King novels by osmosis. You have to spend a lot of time--e.g., six hours a day on weekends--to be a serious reader.

    Moreover, she says she doesn't know words such as "repugnant" and has to look them up in a dictionary. These words should be part of a teenage reader's vocabulary well before age 16.

  • Margaritte's overriding concern is to avoid becoming a teenage mom like her mother was. But when Mike proposes having unprotected sex because he did it once and the girl didn't become pregnant, Margaritte naively believes him. This badly contradicts what we know of her character.

  • The "everything's looking up" ending seems more appropriate for a sappy suburban tale than a gritty urban one. It's predictable enough for a cautionary "Afternoon Special."

  • The phrase "Crazy Horse's Girlfriend" is a slur applied to a gay Lakota man. It seems weirdly inappropriate to use it for a straight Lakota woman.

  • Despite these comments, I enjoyed Crazy Horse's Girlfriend. Rob's rating: 7.5 of 10.

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