cover image Heart of a Chief: 5

Heart of a Chief: 5

Joseph Bruchac. Dial Books, $16.99 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-2276-7

Bruchac explores what it means to be Native American in a modern society through the perceptive first-person narrative of 11-year-old Chris Nicola. The sixth-grader confronts a plethora of changes: he must now ride a bus from his Penacook Indian Reservation to school; his alcoholic father is in rehab; and the current chief plans to build a casino in the center of their island to bring money and jobs to the reservation. Bruchac weaves in fascinating details about Chris's life on the reservation and the wisdom of the elders alongside credible anxieties concomitant with adolescence. For example, Chris remembers the words of his grandfather, a former chief, as he becomes conscious of his posture on the first day of school and turns from a scared deer or rabbit (""They were made with eyes on the sides of their heads.... They are made to be hunted"") to a wolf (""They were made with eyes in front. They are made to be hunters""). The author also makes readers privy to the Tribal Council's decision-making process via Chris's leadership in a school project. Chris's emerging confidence at school coincides with his growing sense of responsibility both to himself as a Penacook Indian and to his tribe. And as his confidence builds there, he takes on a crucial role on the issue of the Penacook casino. Though the plotting is sometimes clunky (including a few too many story lines involving the adults), the story's themes are universal and Chris's compelling voyage of self-discovery is grounded in everyday events that middle-graders will recognize. Bruchac succeeds in allowing readers to see into the heart of this burgeoning chief. Ages 9-12. (Oct.)