TITLE: Stone & Silt
AUTHOR: Harvey Chute
PUBLISHER: Red Adept Publishing
AVAILABILITY: Amazon (Kindle e-book), Amazon (paperback), Amazon (Audible audiobook), Barnes & Noble (paperback), and more
Historical Fiction - Young Adult/Children's
This book falls into either the Young Adult or Children's (including Middle Grade) category depending on your definitions. The protagonist, Nikaia, is 16 and dealing with her first love, which puts it into YA by the classic definition. However, knowing that the YA definition has narrowed lately to include only the edgy, cynical, not-safe-for-children books, I am confident in saying that this is one that crosses the divide. It is 100% G-rated (no sex, very mild adventure-style violence, no bad words, unless you count "half-breed") and absolutely appropriate for young children.
I know I'm technically not allowed to rate or OFFICIALLY review this book, since Harvey and I share a publisher (Red Adept Publishing, who published my sci-fi series) and house rules say no, but can I please please please gush for a moment? Pleeeeeeease? I'd doing it with full disclosure! Okay, just in case, here are a few more disclosures: Harvey and I are both published by Red Adept Publishing. However, Red Adept Publishing did not ask me to read or review this book. I bought this book on with my own cash monies because I felt like it and read it on my own volition because it seemed like just my kind of book. Neither Red Adept Publishing nor Harvey asked me to review this book or say nice things about it. I swear I swear I swear. All opinions below are my own, and I may get in trouble with one of my bosses (Red Adept Publishing) for writing this, but... I must! Because this book is sooooooo good!!!
Let me start by saying that I was a total Frontier Girl growing up. Like, an American history NUT. I was so into 1800s frontier-type stories, I asked my mother to make me a Laura Ingalls costume when I was a kid and didn't relent until she gave in. I still have that dress, although sadly, it doesn't fit me anymore. I was also a total sucker for Mark Twain's tales of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and on top of that, I was really into Native American history. I watched Pocahontas more times than I can count (all the while knowing the historic inaccuracies, privately detailing them in my diary, and analyzing which ones were okay for the stories and which ones were just Disney laziness). I own native Alaskan art.
So for me, Harvey Chute's STONE & SILT totally hit the spot. It's the story of a young girl living in 1860s British Columbia. AND, she happens to be biracial - half white, half Caucasian. Which, of course, makes her the victim of cruel discrimination. On top of that, she has a major crush on Yee Sim, the nice Chinese boy next door, who has his own worries, being of a much discriminated-against immigrant culture. As a person of Chinese descent myself, I find it wonderfully refreshing to see the Chinese immigration in the 1800s ACTUALLY ADDRESSED. With a REAL LIVE CHARACTER. Because as much as I loved frontier stories, it always bugged me that "Chinamen" were relegated to background roles. And WHAT! A Chinese boy actually gets to be the ROMANTIC LEAD?!?!?! I was totally grinning ear to ear. For real.
On top of its diversity cred (Nikaia's native heritage is explored at length through her mother's family and through rituals/traditions), STONE & SILT is also a fantastically written peek into the past. Perfect for young readers looking to explore American (and when I say American, I mean the whole continent of North America) history. Depictions of 1800s life are gorgeously detailed, and yet the tone is innocent enough to be appropriate for kids of all ages. The heavy theme of racism is explored, and it's handled very well, in a manner appropriate for children and middle schoolers (it reminded me of how slavery was addressed in the American Girl books about Addy, another childhood favorite of mine).
And then there's the plot. It's a classic whodunit that keeps the reader wondering and the pages turning, especially in the last quarter or so of the book (where there's some fantastic action... and I'm saying that as an action/adventure buff here). The mystery of who stole the gold and murdered the man takes a bit of time to really get moving, and I personally think it's only half the point of the book. The book is really about life in another era, historic traditions, and young love.
I would heartily recommend this book to fans of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books (Little House on the Prairie and its sequels), as well as fans of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer. And anyone interested in American history. Especially if they have kids, but even if they don't. Because I don't, and this book made me feel like a delighted little girl again, reading about the curious lives of the people who were here all those years and years before me.