I Am Sacagawea, by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
This book is a reminder of why it is such a hazard to write when one has an ax to grind and an agenda to push, especially when sources are so limited. This book is demonstration of an author who wants to push someone as a hero in the wrong way. To be sure, Sacagawea is an easy enough person to appreciate. She was a person of fairly obvious skill and bravery, having married as a young captive in the savage wars of the plains to a French trapper, and faithfully serving the Lewis and Clark expedition through her pluck and linguistic abilities. All of this would be easy enough to appreciate, but the author does not appear interested in this sort of honest and sober appreciation, placed in a context of difficult times. Instead the author goes in full SJW mode and tries to make it seem unfair that she wasn’t paid directly by the expedition but her husband was paid on her behalf. While I will have some more to say about this later, I would like to say that the tone of the author, and the aggrieved resentment he shows, makes this novel a lot less enjoyable to read.
Admittedly, the story of Sacagawea is a short one and there is not a lot known about her. So the author mostly focuses on what is known. The author talks about her childhood in the Shoshone tribe, her being kidnapped during intertribal wars with another people, and her being given in marriage (probably with little consent on her part) to a trader who was hired on to the Lewis & Clark expedition. The author talks a lot about that expedition, and about various trials that were faced and her pluck–it should be noted that the sources of the expedition were written by Lewis and Clark and others, and that there is no known account by her in the historical record. The author’s use of the written sources to cast aspersion on the courage and skill of those who wrote the sources is perverse, to say the least. The author talks about the glory of her visiting the ocean and the poignant moment when she met her brother and found him as a chief of her people, but seems not to understand why she would not want to stay with her brother after having met him.
This book obviously has some problems. The author seems to lack understanding of Sacagawea’s perspective and why it was that she would prefer to explore new lands rather than stay with her brother and her native tribe. Did her kidnapping (and the fact that her people did not rescue her) make a difference? Was she looked down upon for having been given in marriage to a French trapper? Did she simply want to explore new places and leave the scene of so much suffering behind? These would be natural explanations of her behavior, including the fact that she had a job to do and wanted to do it well. Likewise, the fact that the expedition gave her husband 320 acres and a certain amount of money was a sign of generosity to the family as a whole, seeing as the trapper was the head of a household with a young wife (she was a teenager at the time, we must remember) and a young child. Since the normal grant of land was 160 acres per person, she was paid as part of the household. Why the author cannot see this as an act of efficiency by treating the head of household as a representative of the whole family and instead views it as unjust is yet more evidence of why social justice warriors should leave writing to those who understand history and human psychology and everything else.