March 24, 2011

A difficult and challenging read

Arilla Sun Down
by Virginia Hamilton

Arilla Adams is a mixed race girl who is trying to find her place in the family. Her mother is black, is a dance teacher, and seems wholly American. Her father is part black, part Native American, but keeps his identities separate.  Her brother, Jack Sun Run, identifies himself as wholly Native American. Arilla doesn't quite fit in, which leads to conflicts with Jack, who seems to resent her.

It's an interesting book, but it's also a difficult book. The sledding event in the first chapter occurs when Arilla is five. Written in the first person, she speaks in incomplete sentences, yet recalls adult conversations,  which makes it hard to understand what she is describing. Later chapters are written from Arilla's twelve-year-old perspective, which uses more natural language. This back-and-forth view can be disorienting, and the length of each chapter, from ten to twenty pages (or more) is daunting. Many kids will probably abandon this book very soon. However, persistent readers will be rewarded in the final chapters when Arilla saves her brother's life after a horse-riding accident and discovers her true name.

No comments: