Brenna Nash is a dark and angry 16-year old girl dealing with the aftermath of being the only witness at the death of another young girl two years earlier. She'd been the one who had turned in the killer. And the accused murderer was the only true friend she had, Isaac "White Bird" Henry, a half-breed outcast of the Euchee tribe not much older than she is. Now years later, Brenna is forced to return to the small town of Shawano, Oklahoma where her ordeal happened.
And Shawano is the last place Brenna wants to be.
I picked up a copy of In The Arms of Stone Angels during one of my visits to Foyles. I read it cover to cover in a single night. I put it down and wondered what I thought about it.
Brenna's character is a strange, conflicted one. On the one hand you feel bad for her as she's the victim of some severe bullying. On the other hand you can't quite believe she tattled on her best friend, sending him up for murdering a girl, when there was so much doubt surrounding the case in the first instance.
Now that she's come back to Shawano with her mum, after the death of her grandmother, Brenna has to face reality. That she may have done a very bad thing, allowing her best friend to be locked up. She wants to make some kind of amends and in doing so, discovers that White Bird did not in fact stand trial because he's been taken into psychiatric care. He had been found as he knelt over the body of the dead girl, a bloody knife in his hands, deep in some kind of trance. And he's not woken from that trance for two years. He is basically catatonic so the case cannot go to trial as there is no way to interrogate him.
Brenna runs foul of the local bullies at school and is treated quite badly. In fact, there is a scene in the book that almost had me stop reading, it disturbed me so much. But I took a break of an hour and went back to it. With her running foul of the bullies, she also has some altercations with the local sherrif and the one deputy. The sherrif considers her a risk to the community and dislikes both her and her mum and goes out of his way to be particularly cutting to them both. Even when their home gets assaulted by a group of local kids, the sherrif basically blames Brenna and her mum for instigating it, for coming back to town.
Brenna goes to visit White Bird at the hospital / care home and is seen by her overseeing physician who confronts her during her second visit, trying to blackmail her to tell him how she managed to get White Bird to react to her. And I'll stop there with the account because there is so much more to this story, that swings between everyday reality, whilst being touched with a sense of the supernatural.
As I'm writing this, and I'm thinking about the story, I realise the many layers there are to it. Brenna's self-discovery of her own abilities and the strength she finds in herself is key. But then so is the underlying racism in the community of the town itself, as well as the racism within the Euchee tribe for mistreating a young questing half-breed. It is a very quiet comment on the great many things that boil beneath the surface of any small town in any part of the world and how one or two people have to pay the consequences when things get out of hand.
I can't say that I loved the book. I enjoyed it and thought it was well written but I think it disturbed me more than I suspected it might. I'd encourage others to read it, to see what they think of it because the book is definitely a conversation piece. But it made me feel deeply uncomfortable and I did cry in the end and I felt such anger and sadness at how things worked out. I will definitely buy Jordan Dane's other YA titles and I'm keeping ITAOSA on my bookshelf because I suspect it is a book I will need to reread very soon.