Katie O’Toole is the unlucky thirteenth child of Irish immigrants, living in the wilds of Pennsylvania, when Native Americans attack her small town and kill many of her family. Katie, however, with her flaming red hair and bright blue eyes, is hailed by one of the natives as the subject of his vision. Instead of being harmed, she is treated as precious and given the “choice” of going along with two natives – both of a different clan than the attackers – or staying with her family and being ransomed back to her family. For Katie this requires almost no thought, as she’s spent her life in unappreciated semi-servitude to her parents and siblings, but she vastly underestimates the difficulties that face her as she and her two new companions make their way west.
I was genuinely surprised by how very much I enjoyed this book. The description sounded enticing, but I tried to go into it with no expectations in case it didn’t work out the way that I hoped. Instead, it far surpassed my expectations. This ended up being a delightful book that still manages to handle some very serious and important concerns.
First of all, racism. The early American colonists were very, very wrong in their treatment of Native Americans, basically claiming every last bit of land in the country that they made up (ignoring previous boundaries and societal organizations). Katie is the sole narrator of this book, but she witnesses prejudices first hand against her companions on numerous occasions. She even makes up her own misconceptions based on that racism, only to have them knocked down and torn apart by the men she’s travelling with. In this case she doesn’t know any better, doesn’t know anything different from what she’s been told. She naively assumes that their expectations of life match her expectations of life and watching that change as she realized that she was dealing with a people completely different from her own was fascinating. If anything it shows how important it is to broaden our horizons and open our minds.
Katie also undergoes a significant period of grief, which I can’t touch on without spoiling the story. But it was a moving experience and really showed how naive she was, despite the hardships of her life before. It’s almost as though, after that complete change, she no longer applies the logic of her previous life to her current life. I really enjoyed Katie as a character overall, actually; I found her easy to relate to and learn along with her about the new world that she finds herself in.
The book is written in a style meant to mimic how a woman of her era would have spoken or written, which I found distracting at first but then basically stopped noticing as I got further into the book. I’m not sure how others would feel about this, but it definitely didn’t get in the way of my appreciation of the book, although I can’t say it added much.
And, of course, The Spirit Keeper has an absolutely wonderful romance with just a touch of fantasy – interpretation left up to the reader mainly. Again, I don’t want to give away any details, but I really loved this aspect of the book. The book only ended too soon – I’d have happily kept on reading for another hundred pages. I look forward to more from K. B. Laugheed in the future.
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