Still a Season of Gifts
Well, we were due to come back here at some point, and Six Boxes of Books’ post last week corresponded with my re-read and re-deliberation of this title taking all of Jonathan’s second-read arguments to mind. I think he’s on to something, framing this as a satire. However, doing so only makes me more convinced of my original reaction.
I actually just reviewed the book for BayViews, a local review journal, and requested permission to reprint a section of the review here. It’s one of two signed reviews for the book that will appear in our November issue; we often print side by side reviews when there are major differences of opinion. I should say that I actually agree with all of the positive points made in Penny Peck’s excellent partnering review…but I go on to add:
The satirical use of racial stereotypes that ensues [with the introduction of the Kickapoo Princess] will offend some readers … Still, within the chapter “The Haunted Melon Patch,” this material is satirical: Dowdel banks on the racial insensitivity of the townspeople to scare them with their own misconceptions.
However …Within the sermon, Peck’s satire reaches its point: the lesson is supposedly learned that the townspeople are the same as the Kickapoo, and even though there wasn’t really a Kickapoo Princess haunting the melon patch, if there had been she’d be more the “normal” gentle girl described in the sermon than the horrific vision imagined by the townspeople.
But the lesson itself is full of racial insensitivities. Phrases like “links in the chain,” ignores the fact that the Kickapoo were driven from Illinois through a series of devastating treaties. The use of the term “long forgotten,” suggests the Kickapoo no longer exist. The entire act of the sermon is evangelical, suggesting that a Christian burial is a good and progressive act to commit another culture’s remains to (however symbolic those remains be), and that the establishment of a church is a noble thing for an imaginary dead Kickapoo Princess to have lived and died for.
What is the point of utilizing such satire in this book? Who is its audience, and who will get it? Try to imagine the same satirical structure used with any other ethnic minority. Is Peck’s satire effective?
When satire uses pointed humor to reveal the shortcomings inherent in that humor, it can be difficult for a person who is the object of the humor to understand the full import of the satire … But … I don’t think that Peck does [understand]. He falls short in his satire, and in doing so, undermines the whole project of it. This does not make him a bad person. It does not make this a bad book. It does make it a seriously flawed book.
(If you want to read both full reviews; join ACL, or subscribe to BayViews insitutionally through EBSCO)
So you see I’m on the same page with Wendy at Six Boxes, who says:
But digging up American Indian bones and re-burying them in white Christian cemeteries?
Dude. That’s not something to joke about*.
*Always allowing that I could find a joke about this really, really funny if it were done well and made an important point.
That is: Satire has to actually be really funny and make an important point to work. Peck’s doesn’t.
Wendy also suggests that the insensitivity in the book would be worse if the sermon was left out…but I’m not sure I agree with that. I think the sermon is insidious, because it let’s some readers imagine that this is sensitive.
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About Nina Lindsay
Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at email@example.com
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