Burning Sky by Lori Benton
Waterbrook Press, 2013. Trade paperback, 416 pages.
Benton’s debut novel from 2013 is a wonderful depiction of life on the western fringes on early America. Opening with the return of Willa Oberchain to her hometown of Shiloh, New York, one is quickly introduced to the two main characters. Willa discovers Neil McGregor facedown on her father’s former land and nurses him back to health. Soon news of Willa’s return spreads, as she had been taken by Indians nearly 12 years before. While many chose to help, one threatens her livelihood since Richard Waring wants her father’s land.
Willa struggles to rebuild her family farm, all while fearing that the land may be sold out from under her and coping with the recent loss of her Indian family. Neil helps around the farm as he heals and soon her Indian brother Joseph Tames-His-Horse arrives to assist. On a hunting trip, Joseph discovers to children trying to find their way back to their mother’s people, as they are half Native American and half white. As the girl is injured, he takes them to Willa and Neil, a trained doctor. Joseph is also tracking deserters for the British, one of which may be in the area. Willa also must decide whether she belongs in the white man’s world or the Mohawk world, as Neil leads her one direction and Joseph tires to get her to return home with him. Soon events will be placed in motion where Willa must make choices and all the storylines collide.
Benton manages to create a heartfelt novel set amid the hardships of life on America’s frontier and those of the newly formed nation. Granted this early frontier is still what is now the East Coast. However, as one reads the novel, they can feel the character’s longing, grief, caring, and other emotions. It was hard not to be carried away with the story and even harder still to set the book down. Through Willa, one sees her struggle with discovering the truth about her parents, finding herself once again, and readjusting to life in a white world while fighting for what is rightfully hers. Neil serves to remind readers of how one can bounce back from what could have been a more disabling blow. Thanks to Francis, one sees how one should not be judged by his or her seeming lack of intelligence (he probably has autism). Then Richard serves as the example of why revenge often does more to harm the invoker, not the victim. There are many lessons to learn in this novel and one must read it to fully grasp them. And that is one reason I revisited this novel for an upcoming book club discussion.
Do you think you will read this novel? Have you read any other works by Benton? I’ve read, enjoyed, and reviewed several others in the past (The Wood’s Edge, A Flight of Arrows, and Many Sparrows).