Sunday, February 10, 2013
The Lynching of Louie Sam - Elizabeth Stewart
Author: Elizabeth Stewart
Publisher: Annick Press, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 283 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: February 4, 2013
Finished: February 10, 2013
From the back cover:
A murder, a scapegoat, and a terrible injustice...
It's 1884 and 15-year-old George Gillies and his family are immigrants to the new Washington Territory, where white settlers have an uneasy relationship with Native Indians.
When George and his siblings discover the murdered body of a local man, suspicion immediately falls on a Native named Louie Sam. George and his best friend follow a mob of angry townspeople north into Canada, where the culprit is seized and hung.
Soon George begins to have doubts. Louie Sam was a boy, only 14-could he really be a vicious murderer? Are the mob leaders concealing a shocking secret? As George tries to uncover the truth, he faces his own part in the tragedy. But standing up for what's right is a daunting challenge.
This powerful novel is inspired by the true story of the only recorded lynching on Canadian soil, recently acknowledged as a historical injustice by Washington State.
As soon as read the title, I knew I had to read this. Once I read the summary and saw that it was about the only lynching that ever took place in Canada (I was actually surprised we have only one recorded, I honestly thought there would have been more), it cemented my decision to read this.
The author does an excellent job of keeping the main story based on historical facts, and only uses creative license regarding the events after the lynching: where George develops a conscience and seeks out the truth of what really happened and tries to get Louie Sam's name cleared. It's well documented that people living in Nooksack in the Washington Territory knew very well who really committed the murder, but because no one wanted to appear to be sympathetic towards Natives and risk their livelihood amongst the other settlers, and also didn't want to jeopardize the territory's claim for statehood by admitting to being involved in a lynching, even the authorities at the time looked the other way and allowed Louie Sam to take the blame. On the Canadian side of things, the government promised justice and sent their own authorities down to investigate, but eventually didn't want to upset relations with the US and didn't pursue it.
There's a lot of excellent themes and discussion topics here: the bullying, harassment, and threats experienced by George and his family for going against the grain; racism against the Natives and other groups, being biracial in a time of extreme prejudice, vigilante justice, and trying to do the right thing even though it's incredibly hard. These themes require a lot of discussion and explanation for students, particularly the racism, it's true to history and therefore disturbing.
A wonderfully written novel about a dark part of our shared history (and by a Canadian author, yay!), with a great breadth of powerful themes for readers. It does contain some disturbing content (the racism, the lynching itself, the threats against the Gillies family), so this is a book that will require discussion for younger or more sensitive readers.
Thoughts on the cover:
Disturbing once you realize exactly what you're looking at (my husband's thoughts echoed mine when he saw the cover). I like the colours for some reason, the neon green and the slate blue don't seem like they belong on a cover like this, but for that very reason they seem to soften the blow that the whole image delivers...again, not sure if that's a good thing or not.