The Which Way Tree

288p. Little, Brown. Feb. 2018. Tr $26. ISBN 9780316434959.
Samantha Shreve remains an enigmatic character throughout Crook's new novel and emerges as a heroine in her wayward, single-minded resolve to end the life of the panther that killed her mother and left Samantha, then age six, scarred. The story unfolds in a series of letters written by Samantha's half brother, Benjamin, who recounts 17 years of his life in a humorous and beguiling mixture of literary formality and colloquialisms. He is just 13 and Samantha 11 when the orphans are forced to survive alone in the remote 1860s Texas Hill Country, where Comanche raids are frequent, as the Civil War encroaches. They live in constant fear of the legendary panther that keeps returning to the scene of the killing. Determined to confront the creature head-on, Samantha commands the aid of a thorny and reluctant cast of characters. She becomes a fierce avenger meting out justice, and considerable calamity, in unexpected ways. Born to a black mother, Samantha is viewed entirely through the eyes of her white brother. It should be noted that Benjamin repeatedly describes her as lazy and racial slurs are said by others. Teachers will notice the parallels to Moby Dick and may want to encourage comparisons. (Samantha is comparable to a female Captain Ahab and Benjamin to Ishmael.)
VERDICT Teens will relate to the sibling dynamic, but the initial slow pace and the nuanced, multilayered story line are best suited for advanced readers.

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