It’s always nice when a book pleasantly surprises you. I didn’t go into reading Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper expecting to enjoy it as much as I did.
On the winter day Little Hawk is sent into the woods alone, he can take only a bow and arrows, his handcrafted tomahawk, and the amazing metal knife his father traded for with the new white settlers. If Little Hawk survives three moons by himself, he will be a man.
John Wakely is only ten when his father dies, but he has already experienced the warmth and friendship of the nearby tribes. Yet his fellow colonists aren’t as accepting of the native people. When he is apprenticed to a barrel-maker, John sees how quickly the relationships between settlers and natives are deteriorating. His friendship with Little Hawk will put both boys in grave danger.
The intertwining stories of Little Hawk and John Wakely are a fascinating tale of friendship and an eye-opening look at the history of our nation. Newbery Medalist Susan Cooper also includes a timeline and an author’s note that discusses the historical context of this important and moving novel.
I started Ghost Hawk, expecting to be underwhelmed, but quickly realized that I was turning page after page to find out what would happen next. I was completely riveted to this story of an unlikely friendship between two boys from vastly different worlds. Woven between this story of friendship is the turbulent history between colonial New Englanders and the Native Americans of the region detailing one of those difficult and change ridden era in American history. The complexity of the relationship between these two wildly distinct cultures is handled well here. Cooper doesn’t over simplify the overlapping layers of mistrust and kindness, but it is also written appropriately for middle grade readers to grasp to basic themes.
However, I do wonder if this is truly a book geared towards middle grades readers. It is already a struggle to get my students to pick up a historical fiction title, and there is at times a slowness to the story (that isn’t a negative thing just an observation). Due to the sometimes complex themes, I don’t know if any of my students would enjoy and completely understand the whole story and context of Ghost Hawk while reading it independently. I feel like it would be best read, and enjoyed, in a guided group setting (for middle school readers at least) so that they can discuss the story and it’s depth with other readers.
When I read other online reviews of this story, most people complained that they lost interest once the narration switches primarily to John’s life, instead of Little Hawk’s. It seems that people thought the pacing slowed done and the story just kind of plodded along, but I totally disagree. Maybe it’s because of my own preferences with regards to historic events, but I enjoyed reading about the Puritans and John’s experience so much more and this book became more interesting to me as it progressed. I was especially intrigued by the “rebel” Puritan and his breakaway colony, so much so that I’ve spent some extra time researching a little more about it.
In the end Ghost Hawk is a hauntingly beautiful story of friendship and tolerance of those who are different than ourselves. These themes are as important for adults to be reminded of as well as younger readers, so I think that readers of all ages (who enjoy historical fiction) will get something out of this book.
Author: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (August 27, 2013)
Length: 336 pages
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