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>What WAS That Book?

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I shook the memory tree today and nothing fell out but confetti-sized scraps of literature. I’m trying (and failing) to remember the title of a book I read back in the fall of 1972 or possibly early 1973; it was right around my 11th birthday. What ails me? It’s only been 36 or 37 years. — practically overnight, right?

Rather than grumble all day about my faithless BookMemory, I’ve decided to give you all the information I remember and ask for help in identifying this young adult novel, published sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

The reason I can pinpoint the time I read this book is because I was going through a phase in which I was obsessed with books about Native Americans or Indians, as we said back then. Someone (Mom? Dad? Aunt?) bought this book for me. The main character was a young Indian male of about 14. He was about to go through some rite of passage (hunting on his own?) to mark his transition from child to young brave. This main character had an animal name like Something Eagle or Wolf or Bear. Or perhaps it was a nature name like Something Leaf or Cloud. (Sorry, that’s not very helpful, is it?) He had a BFF who was about his age and his name was something more descriptive.

Main Character got along well with his mother and father. Because of his age, he was getting hairy-faced, and his mother was always running for her clam shell tweezers. He noted that his friends didn’t seem to share his hirsuteness. (Foreshadowing.) His dad was always available for a father-son talk, and to show his respect and affection, he would look into Main Character’s eyes and stroke his arms from shoulder to elbow and back again.

Something went wrong during the rite of passage stuff. Main Character messed up somehow, I think inadvertently. But ignorance didn’t cut any ice with the tribal council. Main Character was sentenced to die by sitting in a circle in the middle of camp and being starved to death. If he tried to leave the circle, he would be taken out with a spear or a bow and arrow. His father and mother were heartbroken, but nothing could be done to reverse his sentence.

After a few days in the circle, Main Character was pretty bad off. He managed to surreptitiously dig some grubs out of the dirt. Then he noticed that it was going to rain and knew that he’d get a drink of water. He hallucinated that he was drinking so much rainwater that he was drowning, but didn’t realize that members of the tribe were holding a buffalo hide over him so that he couldn’t get any water.

Main Character survived beyond the maximum number of days that anyone had ever lived in the circle (nine or ten?) and the tribal council decided to spare him. Soon after that, some white men attacked the camp and in the chaos and confusion, Main Character found out that he wasn’t an Indian, he was white. He was taken back to the white settlement.

Some time went by. As a new section of the book began, 1-3? years had passed and Main Character was still in the settlement and not liking it a bit. He wasn’t used to his white name (something Biblical, like Matthew or John or Daniel) and since his Indian mom wasn’t plucking his face anymore, he was quite beardly. He thought white people stunk — as in, they didn’t wash themselves enough. They cursed, smoked and spat constantly.

And that’s all I can remember! I think Main Character returns to the tribe and strokes his Indian father from shoulder to elbow, but I’m not sure. I am certain that this book isn’t Little Big Man or A Light In The Forest, but as you can see, that’s all I know for sure.

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