As a work of historical fiction, Sing Down the Moon offers the reader valuable knowledge of two little known segments of U.S. history: the practice of enslaving young American Indian women and the forced relocation of the Navahos. The sufferings of the Navaho people are the sufferings of Bright Morning as she watches the old and weak die and the men lose their will.
The plot of the novel is episodic rather than causally related, and the unity of the book comes through the personality of the main character rather than through a tightly structured plot. Through Bright Morning, the reader learns about Navaho customs and way of life. Bright Morning reflects the beliefs of her people and explains her role in the womanhood ceremony and the marriage ceremony. Her love of her land is evidenced by her description of the canyons, mesas, and rivers. The historical and cultural import of the novel, however, is superseded by the development of Bright Morning from a girl to a woman. It is her strength of character that sustains her through the hardships of her two captivities and her hope that ultimately brings her back to the land that she loves.
Although Tall Boy is the strong character at the beginning of the story, his injury and his powerlessness in captivity weaken him. Bright Morning, on the other hand, gains strength and determination through her experiences. Her first escape is arranged by Nehana, but the second escape Bright Morning...
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Scott O’Dell has long been recognized as a first-rate writer of historical fiction for children and young adults. His first novel for children, Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960), was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1961. Sing Down the Moon, The King’s Fifth (1966), and The Black Pearl (1967), have been named Newbery Honor Books. As in all of his novels of the American Southwest, in Sing Down the Moon O’Dell provides the reader with a realistic description of the setting and a sympathetic portrayal of the culture of the people who lived there. O’Dell has been criticized for inaccuracies with regard to Navaho dress and hairstyle. The inaccuracies, however, are quite minor and do not detract from the dignity of the people he brings to life.
O’Dell’s most important contributions to fiction for children and young adults are his strong female characters. Bright Morning embodies in her character the joy in life, the suffering, and the determination to survive of the Navaho people. The note of hope on which the novel ends is the hope that Bright Morning has fostered in her soul through all the hardships that she has undergone.