From Publishers Weekly
“Springbrook, where Gran lived, is like another country” to Rayanne Sunipass, who has grown up on the reservation on Two Rivers Island, Me. But when her father leaves her and her mother, they are obliged to move from the island to this “other country,” the mainland. Ray attends a new school, where other students tease her (” ‘My dad said you Indians are lazy’ “), and she misses her home, “the smell of stones” and “the rushing noise of moving water.” Through her affection for her pet rabbit, Hop, and her artwork–she loves the big box of crayons her father gave her before he left, the colors of which inspire chapter titles–Ray finds a vision of beauty in the present and hope for a return to the island. The Penobscot legends told to Ray by Gran, which help her remember her Native American origins, add authenticity and interest to this mild story. First-novelist Mead is so earnest about her protagonist’s feelings, however, that at times the story seems an overly fragile portrayal of characters who clearly demonstrate strength and resiliency in the midst of adversity. Ages 9-11.
From School Library Journal
Grade 3-5-Since shortly after her father’s departure from the family’s Maine island home on her ninth birthday, Rayanne and her mother have had to share her grandmother’s apartment on the mainland. Uprooted from her Penobscot community, her best friend, and her beloved pet rabbit, Ray must adapt to a new school and learn to accept her father’s absence, and, ultimately, his remarriage. The strengths of this story lie in the child’s situation, so similar to that of numerous young people in today’s world, and in the well-drawn characters of the girl and her grandmother-a strong, contemporary, optimistic woman whose warmth and encouragement are restorative. Chapter titles, each one a crayon color, serve as reminders of Ray’s artistic talent, which is evidenced in several episodes in the story. Although Mead has carefully placed a Wabanaki design at the end of each chapter, she only hints at the family’s cultural background, mainly by means of bedtime stories told by Ray’s Gram. The child’s acceptance of her father’s remarriage and sudden eagerness to pick up the pieces of her life end an otherwise good novel a bit too abruptly. –Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH
Gr. 3-5. Far from the stereotype of American Indians lost in the mists of history, this story about nine-year-old Rayanne Sunipass is rooted in the everyday world of contemporary Maine. When her father takes off to find himself, Rayanne and her mother are forced to leave their home on the island reservation and move in with Gram in a town on the mainland. Rayanne holds her pain tightly inside herself. She’s alone in the big new school, where she’s the only Penobscot student. Her mentor is her beloved Gram, who plays rummy, is learning chess, makes the best waffles, loves Chinese takeout–and also remembers the traditional stories that help keep Rayanne close to her heritage. Gram’s a bit too wise to be true, but she’s no solemn tribal elder. She knows you have to be able to “cross the bridge back and forth,” and she shows in her daily life that you can “make new ways from the old.” Some of the minor characters aren’t well developed, but Rayanne is a compelling adventurer, just like King Arthur’s knights in the library book Rayanne is reading, just like the hero in Gram’s stories. The precise, beautiful writing reveals Rayanne’s love of the natural world. She misses the physical things of her reservation home: the smell of the river, the rushing noise of moving water, the loon’s hooting cry “cool and echoing and odd,” which lets her know that something wild is always there. Her Penobscot identity connects her with the people around her and with the universe. An author’s note explains that the small, ink double-curve designs that appear at the end of each chapter are an integral part of Penobscot culture. –Hazel Rochman