In prose poetry and alternating voices, Marlene Carvell weaves a heartbreakingly beautiful story based on the real-life experiences of Native American children. Mattie and Sarah are two Mohawk sisters who are sent to an off-reservation school after the death of their mother. Subject to intimidation and corporal punishment, with little hope of contact with their father, the girls are taught menial tasks to prepare them for life as domestics. How Mattie and Sarah protect their culture, memories of their family life, and their love for each other makes for a powerful, unforgettable historical novel.
After the death of their mother, their father sends two Mohawk sisters, Mattie and Sarah, to an off-reservation boarding school. There they face a rigid structure, marching to and from classes designed to teach them to read, cook, and sewall in training for life as domestic servants on the outside. Mattie, the elder sister, runs afoul of a harsh teacher and later is wrongly accused by the teacher of stealing a silver brooch. The brooch disappears the same day as Mattie's sweetgrass basket, a gift from her mother that she has kept hidden. Mattie runs away, trying to reach home, but she is eventually caught and returned to the school. She becomes ill from exposure and dies, leaving Sarah to carry on without her. One day Sarah finds the missing brooch but decides not to return it to the teacher. Instead, she makes sure it is never found. A worker who has befriended Sarah returns her sister's sweetgrass basket and she tucks it in her drawer for safekeeping. Told in two voices, the book captures the struggles the girls endure to survive in a hostile environment, preserve their cultural heritage, and support each other. The author drew inspiration for the book based on the experiences of her husband's great aunt, who attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in the early 1900s. 2005, Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Putnam Young Readers Group, Ages 10 to 14.