A young girl stands by and watches her mother slaughtered right in front of her eyes. An entire village, family and community obliterated because of the ignorance of a shortsighted group of people that reveled in their own destruction.
One Native American girl would no longer have a place in this world as she knew it but would have to travel down many paths, meet many people and overcome numerous obstacles in order to find where she belongs. How do you heal after watching such a massacre? The story begins in a unique way with an old woman relating the story that we are about to share with readers called Koko’s Gift. Two young people come to speak with this older woman in order to hear her story, record the events and relate the history. As this young girl hides from the killers she thinks about the many different options she has. Should she run or she should pretend to play dead? In the end it did not matter as she was dragged by these people, yelled at and warned that others might be next.
Not really understanding what they were saying because they spoke English, the fear within her eyes and her expressions as described by the author and her innermost thoughts revealed she really understood. What started out as an anthropology research project turned into the story of a lifetime for these two young students? Hear the voice of this elderly American Indian woman living on a reservation and enter the world of Koko an American Indian whose life changed when her family was massacred and she became an orphan. Take the trip back in time to the 1800’s and meet Koko, experience that
Koko’s journey takes place in the late 1800s when her tribe is invaded and her entire family murdered.
There are three stories being told and different voices telling them as we hear what happens when a young woman named Maddy sees Koko peering over a fence while so many other young people are reveling in the luxuries of the Brady family showing off their new acquisitions. While her sister Vicky and her boyfriend Joseph are watching the events that are unfolding, Maddy wanders off and what the elderly woman through Maddy relates is quite compelling. As the meet for the first time the reader realizes that neither one understands the other. Language barriers block their communication and what Maddy learns from Koko will change her perception about this young Native American, her own people and what happened to Koko’s family. Before allowing Maddy to take her to her home, Koko, with the help of our elderly storyteller, takes Maddy back to where and when her family was massacred. She learns and sees the events, the white men who killed and feeling helpless, scared and realizing she was a spectator in her own experience. The connection between Koko and her family although gone is quite strong as Maddy joins her in reliving the murders of her parents, the entire village and what happens to her next that would have a lasting effect on Maddy.
Bringing us back to the present we hear Kayla and Dillon’s voices as they react to what they learn about Koko and begin to understand the reason for the attack on her village. This is yet another phase or voice heard as the older woman takes the reader, Kayla and Dillon back to when Koko was born, her early childhood, her amazing way with people, her wanting to become a woman and help her mother and the way she learned to defend and protect herself. As Koko had some kind of power that was within her hands as she placed her palms on Maddy’s head, the feeling of helplessness, not being able to speak, react or move frightened her. Maddy and Koko seemed to develop a special bond as the elderly woman relates what happens next when Maddy would become Koko’s guardian or caretaker. But, one being white and the other Native American how would she fit in with people that might not accept her?
The story has many layers as the author reveals an emotional upheaval faced by Koko with an encounter with some men on her way to school. Finally allowed to attend the schoolhouse for classes she excels far above anyone’s expectations. But, one mishap, one mistake and everything changes as this change encounter would open her eyes to the world as so many of us see it and help her understand the true meaning of prejudice, hate, betrayal, deceit and cultural differences. When things come to a serious boil within her home with Maddy and her family Koko decides to venture out on her own and what she learns from those she meets would help her to realize her real place in the world. Eagle Seeker and his family welcome her but what about the others within the tribe? No matter where she winds up she seems to present some type of doubt within every community regarding her presence and why she is there. But, closure is what most people need and deciding to return home and the reception she receives from Maddy her mother would forever haunt her and help her make one significant decision and truly learn the meaning of the words Difference and Acceptance.
But, before Koko can accept where she belongs she needs to accept herself. The past is fast forwarded to the present as we hear Kayla’s voice relating the reason she is living on her own, the abuse she took in some ways the same as Koko’s and the connecting she feels for this young Indian girl. When you read this novel you might think that the events are taking place in the past but when you think about it we hear about incidents of prejudice, racial tension, discrimination and hate on the news every day. Taught that she has to take care of her family, work for her keep and deal with her own failings, Koko is truly an inspiration for young people to learn the meaning of loyalty, family and trust.
Koko would learn some important lessons when she meets Sinopa the medicine man of the tribe and finds out more about her future. To focus on the future you need to let go of the past and put it behind you, good advice but how many would follow it. Revealing her past, understanding her struggles and where she came from reassured her in his presence. But, Koko is inquisitive and there is much more she wanted to learn and understand but in due time. Explaining the significance of the rainstorm and how each member of the tribe is a special raindrop that provides food, shelter or something else to nourish and feed their people, Koko began to develop a sense of purpose as Kayla’s reaction to this will surprise you. What about her partner did he want to continue or would she complete this alone?
Sometimes your dreams become your realities as Koko meets her spirit guide who explains her future, her destiny and will instruct her when it is time to go out on her own and be the person she is meant to be. When her tribe is forced to move and they are at the mercy or hand of the soldiers what Koko experiences brings back the memories of what happened when her parents were killed. Added in are her talks with Sinopa and the end result and her decision will separate her once again from those that protected her. Coming back to the present Kayla reacts to this part of the story by not wanting to continue reminded of something in her past and leaves her partner to deal with the rest of the story on his own.
Where she winds up and what her gift to the world is you will have to learn for yourself as Koko finds a way to be the person she is meant to be. Others might actually see her but when and how will truly amaze you. Koko’s Gift was special and for those who want to learn from her and Sinopa embrace who you are. Live your life in the present. Do not take the world on your shoulders and remember to help those in your family, tribe your community. Raindrops are special and they help nourish the land so you have food. This is one great story for people of all ages to learn tolerance, understanding, loyalty, friendship and that there is only one race: The Human One: and we are all the same inside. Find out what happens to the project when you read this outstanding novel.
Author Sarah Granahan brings to life a young Indian girl that so many teens and young adults today can certainly model themselves after and learn many valuable lessons.