18 September 2013

Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper: Audio Book Review

This is my third entry for my Official Audio Book Review Week.  When I made the dual discovery that the author of Ghost Hawk was THE Susan Cooper, and that the audio was read by the inimitable Jim Dale, I requested and received a complimentary from my sales rep.

Alas, I should have just judged this book by its cover. Its terrible, terrible cover.

Spoilers abound here, peoples.  Just sayin'.

First of all, the book is narrated in the first person.  Ugh.  It's also narrated by somebody who dies approximately one third of the way into the book.  Double ugh.

Little Hawk is a Wampanaog Indian. When he turns 11, he must spend three months on his own in the dead of winter in order to become a man.  This he survives, but when he returns to his village he finds that everybody has died from smallpox except his grandmother. Little Hawk and his grandmother meet up with another tribe, also hit by the smallpox, and somehow form a family.  Kind of like the Brady Bunch, except with more leather & outdoor living. Then Little Hawk meets a young white boy named John Wakeley when the white people ask the Wampanaogs about how to fish. Much later, Little Hawk encounters John again. When he tries to help John's father, trapped under a fallen tree, he is shot by some vicious white people who think all Indians are savage heathen.

Little Hawk dies but lives on as a ghost that only John Wakeley can see or hear. Oh, I get it.  The character is called Little Hawk when he's alive, but the book is called GHOST Hawk because he's a ghost for most of it. Which is convenient, as far as that goes, or else Susan Cooper would not have a narrator for the rest of her book. John grows up miraculously with a benevolence towards the Wampanaogs heretofore never exhibited by another white man. The white men are intolerant pricks who decide the best way to celebrate their freedom of religion is to punish everybody in the New World who doesn't believe what they believe.

Yes, I'm being glib, but in truth, the story of the European vanquishment of the native peoples of North America is tragic and underrepresented in our history, and the effect of the Puritans' brand of colonialism is both reprehensible and incalculable. Which is why it's a terrible shame that Susan Cooper's novel is so completely heavy-handed, so utterly lacking in nuance and shades of grey. I'm sad to say that I cannot recommend this book.  The page-turning magic that permeates Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series is completely missing here.  Even Jim Dale's rendering of the characters couldn't save this book.  He is truly a giant among audio book performers but he was not well-matched to this story.

It's clear that Cooper did a great deal of research for her book, and I know from hearing her speak that this story was inspired by the marshland around her house, which she feels must be sacred somehow. I just wish she had written a solid non-fiction account for young readers instead of this completely unsatisfying novel. 


  1. Oh this sounds a real disappointment. I loved Cooper's "The Dark is Rising" series and read all of the books several times in my teens. Think I'll give this one a miss (it's a pity as the subject matter does interest me).

    1. Jan, I think that if you were to read the book it might be less frustrating because you could skim it, unlike with an audio where the pace is pretty slow. I mean, since you're interested in the subject matter and you already liked Cooper's other work, it might be worth taking a chance on.

  2. Aww sad trombone that this wasn't a better book.

    I know they say not to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes the cover is trying to warn you...

    1. And when the cover AND the title combine for a double whammy, watch out!

  3. "Alas, I should have just judged this book by its cover. Its terrible, terrible cover" - YES. See, people always tell us not to do this and that it isn't true. But sometimes it is true! Very, VERY true.

    You had me for this audiobook at the Jim Dale. Then it lost me at everything else, lol. Solid review, though!


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