*recommended for teens, not middle grades
Sixteen-year-old Margaritte is constantly planning an escape route from her miserable circumstances. A mix of Apache, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and white, she finds her Idaho Springs, Colorado, home nothing less than depressing. Beyond ennui at home, Margaritte has to deal with the daily stress of her volatile alcoholic father and a mother who can be equally explosive, while helping care for her innocent six-year-old twin sisters. She's tired of living on the cusp of poverty, as well as being surrounded by teens who have no future aspirations. High on their chart of escapism is drugs and alcohol, while many girls succumb to teenage pregnancy—a statistic that Margaritte has no intention of becoming. Ironically, Margaritte, who drinks and smokes pot, sees the wads of cash she hopes to bring in as a drug dealer and her new love, Mike Walker as the ticket out of her loathsome life. Yet the hope of a brighter future suddenly appears dismal when Margaritte learns that she's pregnant.
In her debut novel, Wurth has created a plethora of hardened teens and their means of survival in unforgiving conditions. The story's protagonist narrator is Margaritte, whose insistence on not becoming a loser truly earmarks her as an underdog, as she struggles to go against the grain of her impoverished society. The language Wurth uses, which includes Lakota terminology, is raw and visceral, reflecting just how tough these teens are, especially Margaritte.
Written in first person, Wurth's narrative is full of literary techniques that highlight themes of codependency amid Native American culture during the 1990s. Of prominence is Wurth's use of a leitwortstil (a purposeful repetition of words that usually expresses an important story motif or theme) in the phrase "for a Moment." The intentional capitalization of the letter "m" tells the reader that various characters, most often Margaritte, are deliberately observing a situation and wondering why life is like it is, as in this example between Margaritte and her mother:
Mom was grading. It seemed like she was always grading. She looked up, smiled, her dark eyes full of exhaustion. She touched the bruise on my face with the back of her fingertips and I took her hand. We watched each other like that for a Moment, and then our hands dropped and I ate my cereal.
Wurth does an excellent job describing the devastating effects of codependency in drugs, alcoholism, and relationships. Although Margaritte is equally a victim of codependency, she sees the horrific results of meth and coke addicts, and the damaging effect that alcoholism has on her father. The vicious cycle of codependency is not limited to substance abuse. Wurth focuses on codependency in relationships, such as Margaritte's mother who is in denial, fixed on the happy memories of the past, and believes that her husband is getting better when clearly he is not. Another example: Mike and Margaritte's happy beginning that turns sour. With codependency, one expects plenty of conflicts, almost like a ticking time bomb, which are bound to explode at some point. And, indeed, Wurth creates enough un-hackneyed conflicts to keep her story fresh and constantly moving.
Without specifically stating that the story takes place in the 1990s, Wurth refers to items from that time period, such as the hip-hop and rap music the teens listen to (Biggie, TuPac), TV shows ("The Electric Company"), popular book titles (Hyperion by Dan Simmons, early Stephen King novels), and items like cassette tapes and rotary dial phones.
Kudos to Wurth for producing a gripping and heart-wrenching narrative that is not only a must read for young adult and older readers, but also a wonderful addition to Native American literature.
Erika T. Wurth's work has appeared in numerous journals, including Boulevard, Fiction, Pembroke, Florida Review, Stand, Cimarron Review, The Cape Rock, Southern California Review, and Drunken Boat. She teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University and she's been a guest writer at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She's Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee and was raised outside of Denver. Visit her website.
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