Wednesday, July 7, 2004

To Spoil the Sun

Rockwood, Joyce. 2003. TO SPOIL THE SUN. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0805073728 [Suggested Grade Levels Young Adult]


It is the early sixteenth century in a town called Mulberry in the southern hills of the Appalachian Mountains before the Spaniards or “Immortals” arrive bearing their “invisible fire.” A young Cherokee girl named Rain Dove is dreaming of marrying a young warrior and having children. Soon her heart is struck with anxiety as she listens to the wise men of the Seven Clans discuss the meaning of the four omens. After all, four omens signal death and complete “the circle.” The first two came in the dead of winter: a rattler strikes down a hawk and an ominous thunderstorm threatened to destroy the town. By spring, the “Ancient Fire” had become a “charred heap,” but the last and most disturbing omen was the arrival of the “Immortals.” Rain Dove’s discernment and interest in the affairs of the council bring her to the attention of one of the council’s most prominent and older men named Mink. He enjoys her wisdom and sensibility and asks her grandfather if she might become his second wife. After a short period of time, Mink dissolves the marriage and frees Rain Dove to marry his young nephew, a brave and popular warrior named Trotting Wolf. They have twin boys and a daughter. While Trotting Wolf is away leading a war party, the ghastly “invisible fire” known as smallpox begins its horrifying rampage. Their firstborn son and little daughter are among the thousands that are left dead by its unrelenting force. Upon Trotting Wolf’s return, Rain Dove and their son, Traveler work to rebuild their lives. Because of her heroism, wisdom, and bravery, she becomes the first woman to be granted the honor of serving on the council of the Seven Clans.

Rockwood’s profound use of words and visual imagery is extraordinary (e.g.” You cannot imagine what it is like…it falls on everyone and soon there is no one left…It is like a fire that sweeps through, an invisible fire. People begin to fall, blisters rise…and turn to running sores…there is no way to give them comfort…I reeled at the force of it, horror-struck…”). In the “Afterword” there is an interesting timeline and a moving comment by Rockwood. “These events…are obscure sentences…the Indians…affected by these ‘minor’ events are never glimpsed by us…This book, then, is about a people who lived and died on the other side of history, just beyond our view.”


Readers can research the recurrent epidemics that swept through the eastern section of North America during this period. They could discuss the difference in the inevitability of smallpox opposed to diseases like malaria and yellow fever. They can enlarge their understanding of the interesting and different “pox viruses” that exist today via the Web.

Other books that deal with struggle, perseverance, and the will to survive:
Borland, Hal. WHEN THE LEGENDS DIE. ISBN 0553257382
Creech, Sharon. WALK TWO MOONS. ISBN 0064405176
By Rita Pickett

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