Friday, October 31, 2014

Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost

This novel-in-verse looks into the past when Native Americans were forced from their lands in the 1800s in the United States. I just happened to have finished the book, How I Became a Ghost, by Tim Tingle about the same topic except specifically, the Trail of Tears. These two books could be compared regarding the Removal Acts of 1830 and how they impacted the Native Americans. They are quick reads. Helen Frost captures the lifestyle of the Miami tribe at Kekionga and the trading post outside Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Two alternating viewpoints between twelve-year-old friends, Anikwa, a Miami boy, and James, a white boy, show two cultures at odds with each other. I got lost in the scenes where the two are trying to communicate and do not know each others language. I can relate with living overseas for the past ten years and having a concrete ear when it comes to learning languages. Some incidents are funny. Some frustrating. The subcharacter, Isaac, captured my attention least. He is one dimensional and used as a foil to show the common prejudicial view toward Native Americans. The two families of Anikwa and James, particularly the males, fluctuate between helping or hurting each other. I do think this plot was an ambitious endeavor and is going to be hard to pull off because it is a complex topic and poetry uses so few words to convey information. I admire Frost's efforts and at times she succeeds and other times falls short.

The verse in Anikwa's voice is in the shape of weaving, while James is in couplets. The author explains this in the notes and says that originally, James was supposed to look like the American flag. Side-by-side they look like a blanket in the process of being woven. This image of two cultures intertwined made me think of the modern day mix of ethnic cultures in the United States. Blanket weaving has such a rich history in Native American culture and the long hours put into creating a brightly colored blankets suggests that friendship and peace is possible one thread at a time but will take a time and patience.

This is set during a time of war where tensions run high and people are taking sides. Anikwa and James are friends. They fish together and hunt. While they can't speak together, they try to learn words and have an easy camaraderie. The author shows how the Native Americans tried to use appeasement and force against the white people taking their lands. Neither way works and in the end the Miami tribes lose their lands. It suggests that individuals can be friends even in the midst of war and while they can't make a change on a big scale they can on a small one.

This week I was particularly frustrated by the Taiwan government. They have had food scandal after food scandal. My husband and I have been drinking contaminated milk for 7 years. At our school, the incidence of cancer is high. To the point that people have wondered what is going on. I suspect tainted food and pollution. When I talk to the Taiwanese they shrug their shoulders and say they can't do anything. But I can do something. I will not buy food from the companies with shady practices. I can get imported foods. By making a personal action I feel like I have a choice. I can't control the government but I can protest as one small voice. If enough of us get together, it will have an impact on these companies. This is the message I get from this book. Even though only two families will not change the outcome of the war, they made a choice. And that choice is for tolerance and peace.

4 Smileys


  1. Great review! I have read two of Frost's books in the past, and I always love the artistic tricks she uses to convey meaning just in the way text is laid out. However, I have never enjoyed her books. It seems like she always has fantastic premises, and then she drops the ball midway through the story.

  2. Interesting Jaina. This is the first time I've read her books but I've read about her on Goodreads. She has some loyal followers. Our library has her other two books. I'll have to read them. They are quick reads. The verse style can work against elaboration and character development.