Allison's Book Bag

Written in Stone by Rosanne Parry

Posted on: March 29, 2014

At its heart, Written in Stone by Rosanne Parry is about Pearl, a Native American teen who has always dreamed of hunting whales like her father. Too many factors work against that goal, however, which causes Pearl to search for other ways to preserve her the Makah culture. While the story did whet my appetite, I unfortunately found the plot cluttered.

The plot contains so many threads, several of which are never connected, that it strains under their burden. First, there is the loss of Pearl’s parents: she just lost her father, who died on a whale hunt; her mother died during an influenza epidemic five years earlier. Tied into these tragedies is Pearl’s turmoil over having kept a memento from her mom, which goes against Native tradition, and her guilt over feeling maybe she is to blame for her father’s death. Next, because the whaling industry no longer exists, a new way of making money must be found. One way might be to accept an offer from an art dealer, who turns out to be a trickster. Then, there’s the convenience of Pearl getting lost and making an important discovery of unique rock carvings. Last, there’s Pearl conflict over how to best preserve her tribe’s traditions. All these events interested me. Unfortunately, it felt as if Parry skimmed through some of them, instead of taking time to give them depth and to build the  connections needed for a cohesive plot.

Written in Stone was inspired by Parry’s experiences teaching on a Native American reservation. Her respect for the Makah way of life is evident in her writing. Pearl values closeness of family, the whale hunt, and the traditions of her tribe. I learned about a variety of Native American traditions that were new to me such as potlatch, and ones which weren’t completely unfamiliar to me such as petroglyphs. While I eventually figured out that potlatch is a big party that can be thrown for many reasons, there were other terms I never did understand, two of them being Pitch Woman and Timber Giant. Parry says in the Author’s Notes that she did not think it was right for her to share these tales, but the result is that her readers will not know what to make of these things.

During her time of teaching on the Makah reservation, students would often ask Parry, “Why is the story never about us?” Written in Stone is dedicated to those children. But was Parry the right person to write their story? After all, she is not Makah.

Ever since I’ve begun researching diversity in literature, this issue has plagued me. As a special education teacher, I feel the need for more books that realistically depict kids with learning disabilities or with behavior disorders. Am I really required to sit back and wait for one of my students to grow up and write such a book? Or can I draw on experience and research to write their tales?

This is essentially what Parry did. Not only did she draw on her own experience with the Makah tribe, she also spoke to historians, curators, fisherman, and carvers. And yet she has faced criticism for telling the Makah’s story. The American Indians In Children’s Literature site doesn’t recommend Written in Stone, because her novel feels as if carries an outsider’s perspective. And obviously it does. Yet it inspired this outsider to want to know more, which is why I’m giving Written in Stone a semi-positive recommendation.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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