Book Review: News of the World

In 1870 Texas, 71-year-old Captain Kidd (not that one) makes a living traveling from town to town reading news from all over the world, both informing and entertaining his audiences. One night, he’s asked to undertake a special mission: return ten-year-old Johanna to her relatives. Johanna was captured by the Kiowa four years earlier during a raid that left her parents and siblings savagely murdered. Being adopted into the tribe, she considers herself fully Kiowa, with little to no remembrance of her life before or white man’s ways.

Author Paulette Jiles clearly shows how the child feels, but is unable to provide any insight into why. Historically, these children never wanted to leave their adoptive Native American families to return to their birth families; and when they were forced to, were never able to re-adjust. This was the case no matter the age of the child when taken; the race, comfort, or customs of the birth family; which Indigenous tribe adopted them; or the amount of time they were with the captors. Jiles chooses not to provide a rationale for her character, hazarding no guess regarding the psychology of captive children.

The four-hundred-mile journey undertaken by the Captain and his charge is fraught with danger at every turn, from both whites and Natives, and Johanna’s ingenuity saves their skin more than once, despite the fact that she is none too happy to be pulled from the life she loves and re-created as a white child.

It is, of course, the growing trust – love, even – between these two characters that provides the heart of the story. This relationship unfolds naturally, never forced by the author, and the slow growth of affection and understanding is a counterpoint to the fast-paced action of the journey, all the way to the last chapter.

Notice I said TO the last chapter, not through it. When you finish chapter 21, just go ahead and close the book. Chapter 22 should have been left off. It is rushed and unnatural, not to mention beyond implausible, and adds nothing of import to the story of the Captain and Johanna. This last chapter is what brings my rating from five stars to four. The strong writing and story-telling keep it at four.

I won a copy of News of the World (HarperCollins, 2016) from Book Bytes but all opinions are my own.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Connie Ryle Neumann on November 21, 2017 at 3:08 am

    I was interested in reading this book initially because I like reading captive stories (fiction/nonfiction) and it starts in my hometown of Wichita Falls, Texas. However, I was disappointed in Jiles’ inaccurate historical setting right off the get-go in the first chapter in Wichita Falls because the town was not founded until the 1880s and the book was set in post-war 1860s/70s. I lost interest in the story because it’s not an accurate portrayal of the times or, as you observed, the character of the captive. Oh well. Thanks for your review, Teresa. That gives me enough to know I’ll probably not finish it.

    Reply

  2. I, too, am really intrigued by the histories of captive children. This book would have benefitted from a slowing down and unfolding of the layers of that character, I believe. And accuracy in setting, as you point out (although I didn’t realize that about the dates). Yet another example that research is crucial, even in fiction.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Anonymous on November 21, 2017 at 9:37 pm

    My book group agreed with your opinion of the last chapter. Didn’t do anything for the basic story.

    Reply

    • Yes, it seemed to me that either the author or the publisher felt the need to add more words and a fairy-tale ending. Didn’t fit at all, I thought. But the rest of the story was strongly told, I think.

      Reply

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