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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Bone Necklace by Julia Sullivan takes a fictionalized look at an infamous period of American history, when the Native American populations were cajoled, harried, and ultimately forced onto reservations by the U.S, Government. The Nez Perce were a tribe known to be amenable to the exploration of their lands and were generally accommodating to the white settlers and their representatives. However, when it became obvious that treaties were intentionally being broken and injustices perpetrated upon their peoples, the Nez Perce made their stand. This story concentrates on a small band of Nez Perce warriors who fought bravely and tactically well to defeat a much larger, better-armed, and better-equipped adversary and effect an escape for their people from the U.S. to Canada. The cost to both sides in this conflict was horrific and the author approaches the narrative from the perspective of two main protagonists: Jack Peniel, the drunken son of the local sheriff, who desperately wants to earn his father’s respect and atone for his perceived failure to protect his step-mother from death at the hands of the Nez Perce; and Running Bird, a Nez Perce warrior who is consumed by the guilt from his careless actions that precipitated this headlong dash by his tribe for sanctuary in Canada.
Bone Necklace is a deeply enthralling read on many levels. Julia Sullivan takes readers on a rollicking and intensely dramatic journey of war, hardship, privation, and moral justification that was part of the exploration of the west, at the expense of the local indigenous populations. She gives readers clear insight into the motivations and constraints experienced by both the soldiers and the Nez Perce families. Her ability to ascribe to the Nez Perce the familial love, care, and concern is a real tribute to this story’s realism and certainly creates a feeling of empathy for the plight of Native American tribes of the time. I particularly enjoyed both main characters who have major character flaws, but who are similar at their core. The story’s ability to evoke sympathy for both the common soldier and the Native American brave is a hallmark of this narrative and does the author credit. I particularly appreciated that the author highlighted both the disconnection from reality of those who make the decisions in Washington and those forced to implement those decisions on the ground, plus the bias and prejudice of those reporting the situation. It questions whether anything has changed in 150 years. I thoroughly enjoyed this read and believe it will appeal to more than just the die-hard western fan. This is a story that highlights another shameful period of history and I can highly recommend it.