1600s, Massachusetts. Winter is coming. Eleven-year-old Little Hawk must undergo a three-month test of survival alone in the forest with only a tomahawk, a bow and a quiver with a dozen arrows. If he can survive the winter storms, scarcity of food and the threats of wolves and bears, then he will be accepted as a man of the Pokanokets tribe, as his father and grandfather were before him, when – and if – he returns.
But Little Hawk’s world is changing. White settlers, arriving from Europe seeking religious freedom, are beginning to come into contact with the Native American tribes. The newcomers have different lifestyles and different priorities, and tensions between the two peoples are rising. Little Hawk’s path is fated to cross that of eleven-year-old John Wakeley from England, and both lives are changed forever.
John is a cooper’s apprentice in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The settlers’ respect for freedom from persecution does not extend to the Native Americans on their doorstep, whom they see as the Devil’s spawn, full of wickedness and lies. When the preacher, Roger Williams, visits the settlers’ church and preaches a doctrine of love, tolerance and peace, local opinion is outraged – but John agrees with Williams and increasingly finds himself questioning the settlers’ beliefs and assumptions. Can John find a place to live in harmony with the Native Americans, or must he witness yet more bloodshed?
This book deals with important questions of life and death, and it doesn’t pull its punches. I believed absolutely in Susan Cooper’s Native American–white settler early 17th-century world. She shows us from the inside, as it were, how far apart Little Hawk and John’s lives are in some ways, yet how close they are, too, in their common humanity. Highly recommended for thoughtful children of 11 plus.