Book of the Little Axe by Lauren Francis-Sharma
Rating: 4.5 stars
"In 1796 Trinidad, young Rosa Rendón quietly but purposefully rebels against the life others expect her to lead. Bright, competitive, and opinionated, Rosa sees no reason she should learn to cook and keep house, for it is obvious her talents lie in running the farm she, alone, views as her birthright. But when her homeland changes from Spanish to British rule, it becomes increasingly unclear whether its free black property owners--Rosa's family among them--will be allowed to keep their assets, their land, and ultimately, their freedom.
By 1830, Rosa is living among the Crow Nation in Bighorn, Montana with her children and her husband, Edward Rose, a Crow chief. Her son Victor is of the age where he must seek his vision and become a man. But his path forward is blocked by secrets Rosa has kept from him. So Rosa must take him to where his story began and, in turn, retrace her own roots, acknowledging along the way, the painful events that forced her from the middle of an ocean to the rugged terrain of a far-away land." - TheStoryGraph
As with 'Til the Well Runs Dry, this book called to me each time I set it down because I was so fascinated by Francis-Sharma's storytelling. The narration rotates from Rosa to Victor to the mysterious Creadon Rampley, each with distinct voices and motivations. All three seem to be outcasts everywhere they go. Rosa; the dark child in her family, Victor; the not quite Apsáalooke, and Creadon; the half-white orphan.
Although I know very little about Trinidad and Tobago's history, I know even less about that of the Northwest. This is part of why the historical aspects of these books were so exciting for me. I loved how the author was able to place that history within the stories the parents and leaders told their children and grandchildren. Throughout the text, the characters emphasized the importance of owning and sharing one's own story and that of their land so that it would never be forgotten and covered by that of the Europeans. Of course, the stories of people like Rosa, Victor, and Creadon have been all but erased in the present. However, Francis-Sharma was steadfast in imagining their lives.
Her descriptive language gave me enough to picture each land (alongside the maps) without boring me. Too much descriptive language distracts me from the plot. Each section was perfectly woven with revelations but also enough mystery to pull the reader into the next. This perfect pacing made the book very easy to devour.
Naturally, I connected with Rosa and her feminist leanings. She was strong, wise, vulnerable, but also resolute. It seemed like she easily mastered any skill she wished to learn, as long as it was connected to the land. More often than not, I had to stop and take down some of her dialogue as they make for perfect quotes.
"Only stories make one world seem different from the other...And then sometimes you tell the same story and it can make one world seem the same as all the others."
Rosa reminded me of the women in my life and my ancestors who were forced to become adaptable, no matter their environment, time and time again.
Some of the historical contexts I was glad to see in the book were: enslavement and industry in the West Indies, colorism among people of color, scientific racism affecting their everyday lives, and references to the wars and conflicts that occurred simultaneously from the 1790s to the 1830s. Unlike typical history books, historical fiction novels like this one have the ability to tie these events together and show how or why they were important.
My only critiques are that a few passages confused me as I wasn't sure whether they were real or what they were implying no matter how many times I reread them and the way that the book ended. I wasn't sure how the author was going to tie it up but the conclusion Creadon came to didn't seem right to me.
I highly recommend this book to Historical Fiction lovers as well as History/Social Studies teachers who wish to bring some narrative into their discussions on the "American West," the West Indies, Slavery, and Westward expansion.