By Elizabeth Wroten
YA Review: House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle
On 28, May 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: “The hour has come to speak of troubled times. It is time we spoke of Skullyville.” Thus begins Rose Goode’s story of her growing up in Indian Territory in pre-statehood Oklahoma. Skullyville, a once-thriving Choctaw community, was destroyed by land-grabbers, culminating in the arson on New Year’s Eve, 1896, of New Hope Academy for Girls. Twenty Choctaw girls died, but Rose escaped. She is blessed by the presence of her grandmother Pokoni and her grandfather Amafo, both respected elders who understand the old ways. Soon after the fire, the white sheriff beats Amafo in front of the town’s people, humiliating him. Instead of asking the Choctaw community to avenge the beating, her grandfather decides to follow the path of forgiveness.
I take back everything I said about Tim Tingle. He is an incredible writer. I wish I had read this book before I read his others. It’s now very clear that the other books show his skill, but are still hi-low books and don’t showcase the full range of his abilities. I also don’t think I can do the book justice with this review. I certainly can’t without giving a lot of it away and I think it’s better to read and savor it just knowing it will be worth the time.
In all honesty, this is probably an adult novel with YA appeal. Rose is telling the story as someone preparing to die, nearly 60 years after the events happened. Rose, in the story of Skullyville, is eleven or twelve, but it’s clearly from a reflective standpoint looking back over the events that lead to her crossing out of childhood.
The story focuses around Rose’s grandfather being hit by the town marshal. Amafo decides he is going to take the path of forgiveness in hopes that others in the town will see the marshal for who he is. This seems to anger the marshal even more and he decides he wants to hurt Amafo again by hurting Rose. This sets more events into motion that drag Rose’s best friend and her family into the violence and danger. Others also fall victim to the marshal’s temper and anger and are sucked into events our of their control.
House of Purple Cedar is definitely a serious book, but it’s not without its humor either. There are plenty of scenes (the attempted bank robbery especially) that lighten the mood. The book meanders a bit in a lovely sort of way, but Tingle does a beautiful job of tying it up perfectly at the end. Which isn’t to say there’s a Disney ending, just that all the pieces come together and you realize nothing he’s told you, no matter how off topic or slow it seemed, was extraneous. You get a very clear picture of life at the time and an excellent sense of place. The characters are all beautifully crafted and you even get glimpses into many of the secondary and tertiary characters.
There is also a bit of magical realism introduced through Choctaw mythology. The panther on the cover arrives almost at the end of the book and is a protector not a danger. Rose also begins by sharing a dream she has had since this period in her early life. And as she prepares to die Rose sees the end to her vision and learns to let everything that happened, to let all the fear, anger and hatred she’s held onto, go.
Being historical fiction it has the feel of an old west novel, but this isn’t plup fiction. This is a beautiful novel about forgiveness, everyday life, and how there is not one thing that leads to an event, just a series of interconnected lives. The setting, some of the people, and certainly some of the themes remind me of True Grit.