Virginia Hamilton Kristin Hunter - Essay

Kristin Hunter

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Virginia Hamilton's ["Arilla Sun Down"] delicately explores one of the most ignored facts of American society: that a great many "vanishing Americans" did not really vanish, but were absorbed instead into the relatively friendly black community. The evidence is everywhere for those who are willing to see it: Plains and Cherokee features appear startlingly at the windows of many sharecroppers' shacks and ghetto tenements, as well as in newspaper and magazine pictures of black achievers. And there are less obvious traces of this oddly hidden heritage, habits of mind and deeply rooted beliefs neither Afro nor Anglo in origin.

Imparting these last, subtlest parts of the Native American heritage through the consciousness of a 12-year-old girl is the difficult task that Hamilton has set for herself. Mystical ideas and experiences are not supposed to be communicable in words. But Hamilton, a communicator of rare ability, succeeds. For this reason, and because she has dared to break the mysterious taboo against mentioning the Native American ancestry of many blacks, this is a valuable book—not just for young readers but, to quote the author's dedication, "For all who remember twelve."

Kristin Hunter, "The Secret Strength of Names," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1976, The Washington Post), November 7, 1976, p. G7.