* * * * *
It is 1932, and the town of Coaldale is bleeding—residents, that is—many of whom are making their way to parts farther west to flee the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, in Shadow of the Hawk, by K. S. Jones. Notwithstanding the difficult economic times, however, the Williams family stays put. Their teenage daughter, Susanna, known to all as Sooze, finds her brother Henry a bit irksome at times (as he talks as though he knows something about everything), and her younger sister, Cora, something of a bother on occasion. Still, Sooze loves her family. Indeed, she loves them so much that she prepares to sacrifice her future happiness by marrying David Huckabee, a young man she does not love, but through whom she might make better, the lives of her family members.
Jones captured the spirit of the times through such thoughts as—from the just-turned 16-year old Sooze (of her father): “Mama said you could hear defeat in a man’s voice long before it settled in his brain, and I knew I hadn’t heard it yet.” Jones allows Sooze’s true spirit to come forth when she witnesses Benny Simmons, her brother’s friend, murder her Uncle Ray, then blame the incident on Henry. To add to the complexity of the tale, as Sooze struggles to find legal representation for her brother and to support her parents who suffer a grievous loss, David showers Sooze with little gifts. Still, he remains obstinately condescending toward her. For example, he tells her that she’s the only worthy one in her family and that that is why she “belongs” to him. (To which Sooze thinks in response, “Call me stubborn, but I didn’t like the thought of belonging to anyone.“) All the while, though Sooze sees through David, she struggles to find the power within herself to follow her heart—to make her own way. In this regard, it seems she is not unlike most teens of today.
The Shadow of the Hawk is a gritty tale of farm and small community life during the depression years of the 1930s. Sooze, the voice of the story, is authentic and consistent. She is a caring, competent young woman. (I especially enjoyed her willingness to give to others.) Jones most certainly earned her Literary Classics Gold Medal for Historic Fiction YA, with Shadow of the Hawk.