Soldier Sister, Fly Home
by Nancy Bo Flood; illustrations by Shonto Begay
When you are fourteen-years-old, how do you deal with an identity that is confusing and loss that is nearly inconceivable? If you are Tess in Nancy Bo Flood's middle grade novel, Soldier Sister, Fly Home, you talk to your Navajo grandparents, because your mom works at the hospital; and your dad is in Phoenix because he got a promotion at his computer company; and the white kids at the school in Flagstaff bully you because they see you as Indian, not Navajo or white; and your big sister, Gaby, is serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq.
The day before Gaby deploys, she asks her little sister, Tess, to take care of her stallion, Blue. Tess is frankly scared. "Show him who's boss," Gaby advises, and her grandmother agrees. Tess practices being in charge until it comes naturally. She and Blue become bonded.
The Navajo world, specifically sheep camp, teaches her to embrace the earth and to appreciate the give and take of nature. Her grandmother encourages her to take the best of both cultures and make them her own.
Author Nancy Bo Flood tells this story in vivid, expressive language. Accessible to middle-grade students of both cultures, the story grabbed and held me, and I am old enough to collect social security. Tess's voice and earnestness are authentic and readers will empathize with her fears and support her growing confidence. I loved the grandparents who guided Tess and shared their culture so lovingly, and the way Tess bonded with Blue. Her story took me back to when I was in middle school (AKA junior high), even though I am not Navajo, never owned a horse, never had a sister in the army, and didn't know my grandparents.
It isn't always easy to show deep feelings in simple sentences. Nancy Bo Flood has done a marvelous job. Girls and their grandparents will love this book.
Soldier Sister, Fly Home is dedicated to the memory of Lori Piestewa, who was a member of the Hopi tribe and also Mexican American. Lori was the first Native American woman in US history to die in combat on foreign soil. She died on March 23, 2003 and was awarded the Prisoner of War Medal and the Purple Heart.
Nancy Bo Flood lived and taught on the Navajo Nation for fifteen years. She was a research psychologist and studied brain development at the University of Minnesota and the University of London before she began writing books for children. Her books include Warriors in the Crossfire and Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo.
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