cover image A Council of Dolls

A Council of Dolls

Mona Susan Power. Mariner, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-0-0632-8109-7

In the wrenching latest from Power (Standing Rock Sioux), three generations of Dakhóta women grapple with a legacy of mistreatment by the U.S. government. The story unspools in reverse, beginning in 1960s Chicago with second-grader Lillian Holy Thunder; her erratic, often-angry mother, also named Lillian; and her patient father, Cornelius. Lillian regularly flings herself under the bed to hide from her mother, who dies from falling down the stairs while in a rage. The next section centers on the senior Lillian, who grows up on a reservation in North Dakota with a stable mother and a volatile, alcoholic father in the 1930s until she’s forced to attend an Indian boarding school in Bismarck with her older sister Blanche. There, Lillian meets her future husband, Cornelius, with whom she steals happy and mischievous moments until Blanche is poisoned with lye by one of the nuns as punishment for singing a song about Sitting Bull. Blanche dies, and Lillian never recovers from the trauma. In the third section, set in the 1880s, Lillian’s mother, Cora, is sent to an infamous Indian boarding school in Pennsylvania, where she is required to burn all personal belongings, cut her hair, and abandon Native culture and traditions. Power’s deep knowledge of Indigenous history comes through in keen depictions of the Indian schools, and she illuminates the characters’s struggles with generational trauma, which arise as they try to sustain their connections to the past. This story of survival shines brightly. Agent: Rachel Letosky, Cooke McDermid Literary. (Aug.)