Title: The Place at the Edge of the Earth
Author: Bebe Faas Rice
Length: 186 pages
My star rating: ★ ★ ★ ½
Jonah Flying Cloud is a thirteen-year-old Lakota boy taken from his home, along with thousands of other Native children, and forced to attend a government-run boarding school intended to “civilize” them and assimilate them into white society. Lonely and homesick, he struggles to adapt to his new reality. He also finds himself haunted by the “spirit-ghost” of a white girl. This girl is Jenny Muldoon, who has moved onto the former campus of the Fort Sayers Indian School with her mother and stepfather. She takes an interest in the army base’s history and discovers that she, in turn, is haunted by the restless spirit of Jonah Flying Cloud.
The Place at the Edge of the Earth was an intriguing little read. The dual narration was kind of tricky. I was much more interested and invested in Jonah Flying Cloud’s story than in Jenny’s. I didn’t find her to be a particularly likable or sympathetic narrator; her character probably bumped it down from a 4-star to a three-and-a-half-star book for me.
That said, I did like the idea of the two of them “haunting” each other simultaneously. I wish Rice had played with the idea of time more. She hinted at it, then dropped it, maybe because she ran out of a plot and therefore out of pages.
The only other thing that bothered me was the dialogue in Jenny’s time. She and her friend Arnold speak much too maturely, almost archaically, for modern preteens; even their parents have an old-fashioned way of talking. I’m not a total stickler for realistic dialogue, but it became almost painfully stilted towards the end. (I did appreciate Arnold’s “secret,” though.)
I would also have liked to hear more of Jonah Flying Cloud’s history–his life among his own people–even if it had been in flashbacks. I’d also liked to have known what his real name was. He was only ever called “son of Flying Cloud.”
Oh, well. I guess you can’t have everything unless you write it yourself.
Still, Edge of the Earth is a solid novella that, if there was more of a story behind it, could be expanded to make a very good longer novel.