Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Review: The White by Deborah Larsen

Title: The White
Author: Deborah Larsen
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Vintage
Published: 2003
Pages: 219

Rating: 3 out of 10

In 1758 Pennsylvania, sixteen year old Mary Jemison is captured by a band of Shawnee Indians. At first, she rejects her captors and desperately plots methods of escape, but as time passes, she adjust more and more to the Native American way of life, even marrying within the tribe.

The story isn't a new one - I can think of a good handful of other books off the top of my head with this exact plotline. But, many of those books have also been very good, which I why I wasn't all that hesitant about reading another.
Also, I was particularly familiar with Mary Jemison's story because of another fictional book about her, Indian Captive, by Lois Lenski. It was one of the books of my childhood and won the 1942 Newberry Award.

The problem with this book, however, is not the storyline, but the author's writing, and her manner of recounting this true tale. I got through the book quickly, because of the sparse writing style, but there was nothing that compelled me to continue or interested me.

There was not a lot of focus on anything in the book except for the main character, Mary. The ways and customs of the Shawnee are neglectfully skipped over, along with any sense of culture. The other characters of the book, such as Mary's father, her husband, or her children, are also given this brusque, edited-out treatment. We never come to learn anything about them, save for their strict relationship to Mary.

For going to so much trouble to erase everything from the story except Mary herself, the author surely has created a bland main character. Mary is a shell-like, cardboard person whose thoughts, emotions, and motives are unclear to the reader. She never shares very much with us, and sometimes I had trouble guessing what exactly she was thinking. For example, she expresses her unwillingness to marry a certain man (she appears to be attracted to someone else), but very shortly afterward, agrees to marrying him and offers up no complaints ever again. Why? Further on in the book, she expresses a sudden, strong desire to own land. Why? The author never gives us any insight.
And to make matters worse, Mary is also an intolerably dull, listless character. I never felt sympathy or anything else for her. She was simply boring.

Not a book that I would recommend.