People of the Longhouse

Written by Kathleen O'Neal Gear W. Michael Gear
Review by Patricia O’Sullivan

This 17th installment of the Gears’ North America’s Forgotten Past series chronicles hostilities between several Iroquois tribes. In the story, eleven-year-old Odion and his younger sister, Tutelo, are captured in a raid that has left most of his tribe dead. Despite brutal treatment at the hands of his captors, Odion holds out hope that his parents will track them and rescue them before he and Tutelo are killed or worse…

Though I’ve not read any of the Gears’ other titles, my expectation of the series, based on its title and the Gears’ non-fiction introduction to this novel, was that the series is meant to teach readers about native tribes. However, I don’t think the Gears accomplished that goal in this novel. Rather than writing a story about real historical events or the daily struggles of the Iroquois, they wrote a chiller about a child sex slave ring headed by a fearsome witch.

I might not have questioned such a plot in another novel, but in their non-fiction introduction the Gears explained why, a century before the arrival of European settlers, there was so much intertribal violence and how this set the stage for the Iroquois confederation, which was the origin of American ideals of democracy, human rights, respect for diversity, and public welfare. After reading the introduction, I was expecting a novel about inter-tribal violence with seeds of what was to come with the Iroquois confederation. But the plot’s narrow focus on deviant behavior is at odds with the goal of teaching readers the normative behavior of the Iroquois. This is a compelling read, but it does little to teach readers about the forgotten past of the Iroquois or how that past shaped American Constitutional ideals.