2 out of 4 stars
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In Strong Heart, author Charlie Sheldon paints a very vivid and detailed picture of the Pacific Northwest and its native history while telling a story of present-day and prehistoric-day societal struggles. This complex story contains several different themes and is told through the experiences of Tom, his friend William, William’s adult daughter Myra, and Tom’s newly discovered teenage granddaughter Sarah.
Immediately after being introduced to Sarah, Tom and his friends take her with them on a backcountry hiking and camping trip in Olympic National Park to locate Tom’s grandfather’s grave. During their travel, the four share stories and the adults get acquainted with Sarah, who expresses a teenage attitude, distrust, and bitterness from losing the only family she has known until now. When Sarah runs away from the group in anger one night, she falls into a cavern and hits her head. After an eight-day search, she mysteriously returns to their campsite in a very weak and beaten condition. She eventually tells them a story of living with ancient native people for a month while she was gone. Sarah gives many details of life during the prehistoric time including: tools and how they were used, the land and ice changes, prehistoric animals, and the travel and interactions of various tribal people. Her detailed account leaves the adults wondering if she had a spiritual vision or a head injury, but Sarah insists that her experience was real and was the cause of her wounds. After the group returns home, they experience difficulties with family, employers, and others that eventually lead them back to the park with a mission of locating an ancient artifact in order to save portions of the park from developers. They must work together to locate the artifact and fight forces working against them.
The overall story is about Sarah learning to become strong and independent in both modern society and in ancient tribal society. The comparison of modern issues with ancient societal issues is interesting. Mr. Sheldon is clearly well versed in ancient native civilization and the history of the land in the Pacific Northwest. I loved that the book gave a lot of information about the history of the land and people of this area, as well as theories of when and how the first people migrated to North America from Asia. He pointedly used the characters to exemplify the weaving of scientific theories with threads of Native American folklore to explain when and how the area became inhabited. Sheldon used the story to effectively emphasize modern struggles that Native American tribes continue to face in maintaining their way of life, traditions and land rights.
The book seems to be well edited. There are a handful of errors, such as repeated words and misspelled words, scattered throughout the book but they do not detract from the story. I enjoyed the meaning behind some of the plots, the connection of the characters to each other and to the land, as well as the vivid descriptions of the terrain in that area.
While much of the story was entertaining, I found myself getting lost in the repetitive details of Sarah’s ancient journey. Some of the details were given to emphasize historical information, but they quickly overwhelmed the story for me. I enjoyed the main characters, but wished for more depth from each of them. The story line was complex, addressing many different plots that seemed to compete for the author’s attention. While several of these helped increase interest at times, some seemed extraneous and somewhat disjointed. As this is the first in a series of books from the author, I am interested in knowing how each character develops and if the many themes are brought together more cohesively in subsequent books.
While I enjoyed many aspects of this book, I give it 2 out of 4 stars due to the errors and the issues with repetition, character development and extraneous themes as already stated. Beginning on the third page there is mild profanity scattered throughout the story, as well as themes of abuse and moderate violence. Readers who enjoy fiction with information about Native American and Pacific Northwest history would enjoy this book.
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