The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita, a Navajo Girl, by Ann Turner, was published in 1999 by Scholastic.
The narrator describes her experiences as her Navajo tribe is forced to relocate by the U.S. Army in 1864 New Mexico.
The Dear America series is fairly historically accurate at times, but I know there are a few entries that are panned widely for their inaccuracies. The most notorious is My Heart is on the Ground, which I’ll be covering when we get there, but I’ve also heard that The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow has its problems. And there are certainly others besides those that have been criticized for their portrayals of history (such as When Will This Cruel War be Over?, which, again, I’ll be covering when we get there).
I won’t really go into the cultural or portrayal problems with this book; that has been done far more extensively in other places by Native Americans. From my perspective, Turner does a fair job portraying some cultural aspects of Navajo life (in comparison to books that have perpetuated bad stereotypes), but there are others where even I can tell she either glosses over them or twists them entirely. It’s interesting because the notes in the back indicated she did research, and even consulted a Navajo artist about the book. I’m wondering if the audience of the book put some sort of limit on what Turner thought she could and should portray, which is a shame if true.
My main problem with this book—and most people’s, I would argue—is that it is simply a poor depiction of The Long Walk. I know this is a children’s series, but Turner was far too nice in her portrayal. The inclusion of a kindly soldier, while perhaps true to history (though anyone that kind who is in that position needs to explain why he’s even taking part at all), softens the atrocities that happened on the trail, such as leaving the elderly, the ill, and the pregnant behind (if not downright shooting them, as is portrayed—“off page”—in the book). Sarah Nita’s “grin and bear it” attitude (more like “tell a story and bear it” attitude), which may actually work for some instances, only serves to make it seem as if the Navajo eventually became content with their situation. It seems to me as if Turner completely changed the entire tone of the Long Walk.
That’s really the problem—the tone seems off. The Long Walk was something terrible, but Turner’s approach makes it seem as if it really wasn’t all that bad. Even when she portrays things like pregnant women being shot, and the vague “the men can be cruel to our women” comments, there’s too much kindness, too much happiness, too much softening of events. Stories hold a lot of power, and can help in troubled times, but using that idea makes it seem as if Turner is proverbially patting people on the head and saying, “There, there. It wasn’t all that bad.” The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow is simply an unrealistic presentation of the Long Walk, one that is inaccurate, far too happy, and, yes, disrespectful to the people who had to go through it.
Love Thy Neighbor: The Tory Diary of Prudence Emerson, by Ann Turner, was published in 2003 by Scholastic.
In Greenmarsh, Massachusetts, in 1774, thirteen-year-old Prudence keeps a diary of the troubles she and her family face as Tories surrounded by American patriots at the start of the American Revolution.
Love Thy Neighbor retells the tension between the colonies and England leading up to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War—from the point of view of a Tory family. It’s a little bit like recounting the Civil War from a Confederate standpoint—it’s not something you see often and it takes a little getting used to.
The book, like many other of the Dear America books, has more substance as a narrative historical account than as a story with a plot. There’s a bit of one, but mostly Turner is concerned with showing the tension between Tory and Patriot as neighbor turns against neighbor rather than developing her characters. Prudence is definitely merely an onlooker, a vehicle to show certain attitudes, and nothing more.
One thing I appreciate about this book is that I had forgotten about Christmas being outlawed by the Puritans, and this book reminded me of that. That ideology takes centerstage in the novel, as Prudence and her family secretly decorate for and celebrate Christmas and get attacked as “papist.” It’s something that I don’t think a lot of people know—or a lot of people would like to forget, maybe—and in the research I did afterward, it really wasn’t until the 19th century that Christmas really took hold in America.
Love Thy Neighbor seems weak to me, not only because of the lack of a strong character presence, but also because it seemed to me that Turner didn’t have as much research to lean on as some other D.A. books do. I understand that this is a children’s book and footnotes or endnotes are not really things that appear in those, but I really would have liked to have seen some of her research on some of the things she mentioned in the historical/author’s note at the end. It’s probably my least favorite Dear America book I’ve read so far.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
In school today, Abigail did not even return my greeting. When we left Mrs. Hall’s house, I asked if I had done anything to offend her. She choked out, “Papa says we Patriots must stick together,” and ran away. Again.
I would not cry. I took a deep breath, grabbed Verity’s hand, and marched home to tell Mama. She was very kind and made strong cups of tea to cheer us.