In the 1830s U.S. President Andrew Jackson signed a removal order that forced several Indian nations from their homelands in the southeastern United States to move west into what was then known as Indian Territory, which became Oklahoma.
One of the tribes forced to relocate was the Choctaw Nation. These people endured attacks on their homes, which were burned; they hid in the swamps until soldiers found them there and gave them blankets that had been infected with smallpox. Many people died in the home fires, others perished from the smallpox. And then they were forced to walk away from all they knew, toward a new future.
Isaac is a young boy caught up in these events with his father, mother, older brother Luke, and the other Choctaws. He tells the story of their removal simply in “How I Became a Ghost” by Tim Tingle, one of the best know of all Choctaw storytellers.
Isaac has an advantage, or perhaps a disadvantage, to see things before they happen. When a warm shiver goes through his body, he knows what he sees next is not what is happening then, but what will occur in a span of time, perhaps a few hours, or days.
This story is based on the facts of the Choctaw removal, and blended with the cultural stories of the Choctaws. What may seem as fantasy to some — such as when a boy turns into a panther, or another boy can move from place to place just by imagining being somewhere — are stories that come directly from the tribal beliefs.
The Choctaws never say goodbye. In fact they have no such word in their language. Instead they say Chi pisa lachike, meaning “I will see you again, in the future.” So it is not surprising that when Choctaws perished during the removal, they remained with the people still traveling, helping them.
That belief is the core of this story, wonderfully told leaving the reader (or listener) with the warmth of knowing that though people may not be alive, they are not gone. This young narrator, who begins his tale as a very much alive little boy and ends it as a very real (and helpful) ghost.
The first in a trilogy, this book will appeal to young readers, and older people who just like a good story well told.
Recognized as a Finalist for the Spur Award for Best Juvenile Fiction from Western Writers of America, the book was also selected as one of the Best Books of 2103 by Kirkus Reviews and Best Children’s Books of 2013 by the New York Public Library. ❖