Review: The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow

The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita, a Navajo Girl, New Mexico, 1864 (Dear America)The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow
by Ann Turner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow (New Mexico) / 0-590-97216-2

This heartbreaking addition to the Dear America series tells the story of the massive Navajo imprisonment by the United States government at Fort Sumner.

Sarah Nita is tending her family's herd one day, with her sister and their pet hound, when they see smoke rising from the sky and the thundering of horses hooves and, suddenly, their family is taken from them in an instance. Their mother and father have been kidnapped by United States soldiers and sent to Fort Sumner where they will work as servants and slaves in a massive prison designed to hold all the Navajo people. Sarah and her sister must pick their way over the land, hoping to reunite themselves with their extended family and, then, with their mother and father. As the families are reunited and then sent trudging the long walk to Fort Sumner, and as soldiers murder their people for being too old, too slow, or too pregnant to keep up, Sarah overcomes the fear and sorrow in her heart to tell stories in the evenings, stories to chase away their sorrow.

Ann Turner has done a wonderful job of presenting the horror and pain encountered on these forced marches to prison. While she provides a "nice soldier" as a counterpoint to his companions, it is brutally clear that the majority of the soldiers treat the American Indians most shamefully, and the narrator and her sister are warned carefully to never wander alone, for the soldiers "are cruel to our women". The plight of the men is also poignant, as they labor like slaves in the fields and feel helpless and heartbroken that they cannot protect their families from the horrors visited upon them. The children struggle to be brave and strong, and Sarah in particular is able to heal her father's heartbreak with cleverness, carefully guarded food and medicines, and love.

For parents, this book bares a terrible truth about our nation's history and shines the light on our crimes so that we may not repeat these crimes again in the future. This is not, however, light reading. Although Sarah and her extended family remain safe through her determination and cleverness, many other Navajo die badly, with the elderly falling prey to the cold weather, and a heavily pregnant woman murdered by soldiers because she went into labor. Rape is hinted at, when the young girls are warned to not bathe naked because the soldiers are cruel to the women. Though this is an important book for both children and adults to read, sensitive children may find a good deal of the subject matter upsetting.

~ Ana Mardoll

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