Margaret Coel took an interesting turn with her latest book set on the Arapaho Wind River Reservation. Rather than going to Native American legends or mythology for her story, The Girl with Braided Hair is very much a part of the recent history of Native Americans.
The book is written in parallel times. Starting in 1973, shortly after the incident at Wounded Knee, the reader is introduced to Liz Plenty Horses, a young mother who has been on the fringes of the American Indian Movement. She is suspected of being a snitch and is on the run. Coel moves the reader with ease to 2007 when a skeleton is discovered on the Wind River Reservation. Vicky and Father John are determined to find out who the dead woman was and to bring her killer to justice. While investigating, they open some old wounds from an ugly time in our not so distant past.
What sets this book apart from many of the books set in Indian Country, is that it reminds the reader of the continuing struggles of modern day Native American people in our country. While today's readers can only read about the Indian Wars of the 1800's and about the struggles with the westward moving white settlers, The Girl with Braided Hair is set against tragic events in the not too distant past that many readers will remember. This book reminds readers that while the incidents at Pine Ridge and Wounded Knee are over, the struggles of our Native American Peoples that precipitated the incidents are not.
Coel lets readers, through the various characters, see both sides of the struggles that occurred in the 1970's. While the media focus was on the Native Americans supporting the AIM, many of the peoples did not and many more, as several characters in thus book, were caught between the two groups. All of this makes for fascinating reading.
While The Girl with Braided Hair is quite an enjoyable mystery, it is much more. Coel has used her many talents to remind readers of painful era in our history from many perspectives.
REVIEWED BY CARYN ST. CLAIR
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