Scott O’Dell was also author of Island of the Blue Dolphins.
Bright Morning loves the spring. It makes the canyon walls break forth with lovely green trees and blue rushing water. But best of all, it means that Bright Morning and her best friend, Running Bird, can herd their mothers’ sheep out onto the wide green mesa. There they can chatter together and bask in the sun’s warmth. Bright Morning is happy.
But suddenly, trouble strikes. First, a Long Knife – curse the white men! – comes to their camp and threatens them with punishment if they do not keep the peace. And then, while Bright Morning and Running Bird are out in the fields, two Spaniards appear. There can be only one thing that Spaniards could want here… Slaves!
Will Bright Morning and Running Bird be able to escape from their cruel captors? And what of their village? Will it be destroyed?
Sing Down the Moon seemed more like two stories stuck into one than a flowing, well-knit story. The first half consists of Bright Morning’s capture by the slave traders. The second half records the Navajo longwalk from the Navajo’s beloved canyons to the bleak Bosque Redondo. I suppose its jerkiness was more ‘realistic’, but it felt disconnected.
In the second chapter, we learn that Bright Morning is to marry Tall Boy. Her friends tease her about Tall Boy, but she never really gives an opinion of him. Towards the end of the story they have a wedding ceremony and we find out later that she is pregnant, but there are never any romantic scenes between them. She actually nags him a bit with her ideas of running away back to the canyons to find her scattered sheep. When no other course of action is available, he finally gives in to her desires. Bright Morning writes that Tall Boy made a tiny spear for his baby boy, and sings a song to him about killing their enemies. Bright Morning breaks this spear, signaling her distaste for violence.
The biggest note I have to make concerns the religion of the Navajos. It doesn’t infiltrate the story, but it definitely affects it. Bright Morning often thinks of what may or may not please the gods – whether she should dance or laugh or be happy for fear of angering them.
Bright Morning writes that their summer at the Bosque Redondo was bad because there were witches and ghosts everywhere and this made people die. Also, the people feel that their gods have forsaken them. Standard procedure when someone is sick is to call for the medicine man who prays, chants, and touches the sick person with blue stones. This happens twice.
Also, after Bright Morning returns home, her mother decides that it is time for her to have a Womanhood Ceremony. It is unclear what prompted this decision, and the ceremony contains nothing inappropriate – just little rituals.
While Bright Morning is in captivity, she goes to a church for the Easter ceremony. Here, she hears for the first time of Jesus. He is described to her as being “like all our gods if you put them together. He is Falling Water and Spider Woman. But he is not cunning like Falling Water, nor is he vengeful lie Spider Woman.” [pg. 44] She also attends the next night when, “a tall figure suddenly appeared at the door, a man with a circle of cactus thorns around his head. He was carrying a heavy wooden cross on his back. On his face there were spots of blood.” [pg. 48] A fellow captive explains to Bright Morning that “they think he is Jesus Cristo.”
Bright Morning becomes scared when she sees a wolf, because, “these Wolves are sometimes Witches. They are humans who dress up as wolves and try to do you harm.” [pg. 29]
Bright Morning sees an owl and thinks that it is a good omen.
Two lies are told which do not save lives. Also, Bright Morning and her friends steal horses when they attempt to escape.
Conclusion. Good. I prefer Navajo Longwalk as a story, but Sing Down the Moon will satisfy an older audience.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret