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House of Purple Cedar

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

 Zero Stars
"Rose, now an old Choctaw woman, begins telling this story by reflecting on a fire at her boarding school in the late 1800s that killed many of the girls in the village of Scullyville in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). That horror sets the tone for the next few years, as the community is forced to confront ambient racism and attempts to heal relations between the Choctaw and Nahullo (white settlers). When the Nahullo sheriff strikes Rose’s grandfather with a huge board in a drunken fit at the train station, that act of violence—and her amafo’s decision to respond with forgiveness—radiates outward like the spiderwebbed crack in his eyeglasses, touching every level of Scullyville society. The disgruntled shopkeeper’s assistant is inspired to jailbreak the misguided vagrant who robbed the local bank and elope with him, and the sheriff’s abused wife resolves to take action, all while young Rose grapples with the ways her world changes after the attack and, later, the death of her grandmother. As in all good epics, details are painstakingly crafted and slowly knit together; the alternation between a third-person narrator, Rose narrating as a child, and Rose narrating as an elder adds to the layering that draws to a thrilling, supernaturally-tinged conclusion. Tingle’s storytelling is both deeply poetic—the inclusion of Choctaw hymnal lyrics is affecting even for those who can’t read them—and gently spiced with dialect, making this a feast for gourmets of good storytelling, while the Christian themes of forgiveness and an afterlife are infused with a decidedly Indigenous slant. A sort of Our Town for an often-overlooked time and place, this is a testament to the sweeping grandeur that occurs in everyday lives, a deeply personal but strikingly cross-cultural novel. "

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