Friday, June 24, 2011

Dear America: Standing in the Light- the Diary of Catharine Carey Logan, Delaware Valley Pennsylvania 1763 by Mary Pope Osborne

Catharine Carey Logan is a Quaker Girl growing up in the Colonies. Usually her sect of Christians get along well with the Native American tribes around them, but when Native Americans are killed in a confrontation with colonists, and the agreements that the Quakers originally made with the local natives for land to settle on have been undermined by new leaders who perverted the original terms of the agreement to wrest more land from the Indians. Originally, the term was for as much land as one man could travel in a day, but when the time came to re-walk the land, the Quaker leaders hired professional runners and cleared tracks that caused the size of their claim to double.

All this has caused friction with the native tribes, and some of them have come to view the Quakers as no better or less greedy than the other colonists. So while Catharine struggles with her liking for a boy at her school and walks back and forth with her younger brother, she is secretly afraid of the natives that live all around her. And when she and her brother are abducted by a band of natives on their way back from school, she is afraid that she and her brother will be forced to pay with their lives for actions that they had no hand in.

Catharine is separated from her brother and sent to live with an older woman, a young girl, and a baby. At first deeply resentful of her new circumstances, Catharine treats her circumstances as living in a prison. She abandons any pretense of being calm and quiet and takes out her anger and fear on those around her. But when she realizes that one of the braves who helped capture her, Snow Hunter, understands some English and is himself a former captive. He helps her to see that the women who she is living with are wanting her to replace a daughter taken from the older woman, White Owl, and with this Catherine begins to see that the Indian way of life is not to be feared nor hated. She begins to see her onetime foes as people, people just like her own family, and finds someone to love in Snow Hunter, who she learns was formerly named John, through he claims to remember little of his former life.

Giving up any thought of returning home, and reunited once more with her brother, Catharine gives herself completely over to the Indian way of life, which may be strange to her, but holds just as much beauty and spirituality as her own faith. But when Soldiers storm the village of the band she is living with, kill the Indians and "rescue" her and her brother, eventually returning her to the bosom of her family, will she be able to make her friends and family understand what kind of life she lived among the Indians, and why her rescue hurt her so? Or will she have to live with the realization that she is forever marked by her time apart, and that her understanding will cut her off from the people who truly love her?

The Dear America books are told in the form of a diary kept by one girl and her experiences in unusual circumstances. In this case, a Quaker girl gets to experience the life of the Native American tribes and finds that it is just as fulfilling and beautiful and spiritual as her life before. Indeed, many whites who were captured by the Indians resisted being returned to their families and seemed to find Native American life and living to be freer and better than the lives they had lived before.

For Catharine, it comes down to realizing that her caricatured view of the savage natives isn't anything close to the reality of what their life and their people are truly like. Just like her own family, they live and they love and they have satisfying lives that are just like the lives of the settlers, only somewhat different, and that she isn't being tortured and imprisoned by living with two women, but they are attempting to adopt her into their family, to replace a child that was lost. We not only get to see the beauty of their lives, but experience Catharine's anger and grief when she loses them, having come to care for White Owl and Little Cloud. Although the massacre occurs "off-screen", it's an inescapable conclusion when none of the militia who "rescues" her will tell her what happened to the Indians.

The ending to the book, including the epilogue, is deeply sad and shows readers how affected Catharine, and indeed many survivors of Indian captivity, felt after they returned to the lives they had once led. It continues to be felt long after the book is over and leaves a sadness to linger in your mind as you think of the story. This is an excellent book, and it's part of an excellent series that deserves to be widely read. Highly recommended and sure to make readers think and remember.

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