Not only was this book a very fond memory for me, it’s held up remarkably well in the fifteen years since it was published, and it’s really a hidden gem. Probably suitable for teens at least fourteen or so, as it has some fairly mature themes, but overall I loved it and I was so excited to find a dirt-cheap copy to review!
Book: Waiting for Deliverance, Betsy Urban, 2000.
Deliverance Pelton, called Livy, is fourteen years old, being “sold” at a Pauper’s Auction with her younger cousin, Ephraim. An orphan who had been living with her aunt, uncle, and cousins, they have just lived through a river disaster where all the others were swept away to cold and watery graves. Now, as they are unable to look after themselves, they are being auctioned off by the county to the lowest bidder, who is obligated to provide them with room and board in exchange for work. (This is not a fictional construct! Pauper’s auctions were not common, but not unknown in New England and today’s New Brunswick during the colonial period.) Livy is horrified to find her and her cousin in this predicament, and even more horrified to see the gross old men bidding for the privilege of, essentially, buying her. When one particular gross old man kisses her, she clocks him and lays him out, to the applause of all and sundry.
This is about the last enjoyable moment Livy is going to have for a while, because a man wearing deerskins with filthy hair bids a shilling per month for both Livy and her cousin. This obviously being the lowest bid, they are packed off with the man, Gideon Gunn, to his homestead out in the woods somewhere. Livy is not pleased to see this development, to vastly understate things. Gideon takes them to a waiting canoe where a young native guy is keeping an eye on things, and they nearly have to hog-tie Ephraim to get him into the canoe. PTSD, what’s that? The young man is named Rising Hawk, and he is going to get important.
Life at the Gunns’ house is not easy. There are three kids under the age of four for Livy to help look after, plus all the regular chores that come along with running a farm. Polly, Gideon’s wife, is shockingly pretty, and Livy has a hard time figuring out why she’s married to Gideon, who looks like he’s been cured in a smoke oven for thirty years or so. The land where they’re living is only supposed to have been settled since after the end of the Revolution, but they’ve been there longer—meaning they’re either illegal settlers, or were there with the permission of the local Seneca. Rising Hawk is a bit of a dick to Livy, and enjoys creeping her out by staring at her whenever she’s trying to get something accomplished. That’s disconcerting.
Ephraim is very upset to find himself a lowly bondboy at Gideon’s farm, forced to spend his time picking rocks in the fields. He slips away to follow Rising Hawk and go fishing, and later is punished by only eating bread and water for supper. Livy is furious at Rising Hawk on Eph’s behalf, and Rising Hawk is baffled at this. He’s similarly baffled as to why Livy is so deeply unpleasant (although possibly it’s because she’s just lost the only family she knows and is a servant in a house with people she doesn’t much like, and has nothing but chores to do, constantly, forever, and Rising Hawk keeps deliberately trying to creep her out. Just an idea), and when Livy complains to Polly, Polly just laughs and tells her she doesn’t understand Seneca ways. Which is true.
Not too long after, Ephraim and then Livy come down with settler’s fever, which Rising Hawks treats with some concoction that Livy flatly refuses. When she finally recovers, Rising Hawk says magnanimously that he will overlook her bad manners, to which Livy spits at him that he just goes around deliberately picking on her. Apparently, in her feverish delirium, Livy really was quite insulting about Indians in generally and Rising Hawk in particular, so point to Rising Hawk there. Once she’s recovered, she humbly asks him to tell a story after she spent many recuperating evenings listening to him tell stories around the hearth, and he refuses. But he does tell her quite a bit about where Gideon came from—a long-ago white orphan who was taken in by the Mohawks and raised as one of their own before fighting in the Revolution as a young teen. After being wounded quite badly, he was rescued by missionaries and taken to recuperate in at a Canadian mission school for girls, where he re-learned the English he had forgotten. Livy is horrified again to learn that Gideon was fighting on the side of the king, after her father had died fighting for the Patriots, so really nothing is going well for Livy at this point.
An Indian visitor comes by and Gideon and Rising Hawk go with him, and Polly just vaguely says “they were called away,” without elaboration. After three weeks or so without them, Polly and Livy head off to pick strawberries, and leave four-year-old Hannah with Ephraim to look after her. Ephraim, who had been so good up until now, ties Hannah to a tree and goes off to check his rabbit trap line, and Hannah (unsurprisingly) gets tangled up in the rope and Polly loses her shit when she sees her. At this untoward moment, Gideon and Rising Hawk straggle home, and Gideon drags Ephraim down to the river and shoves him underwater to punish him. Rising Hawk tells Livy, who is frantic with fear, that it’s the traditional Seneca method of punishment, and even Livy has to admit that her uncle would have licked the stuffing out of Ephraim for a trick like that.
Although he doesn’t want to admit it, Ephraim is humiliated by what he sees as cruel treatment, and keeps slinking off to avoid working. Gideon’s family comes to visit—his father, Cold Keeper, and his doting mother, Buffalo Creek Woman, and four brothers with little boys of their own. Livy is deeply afraid of their presence, though she tries not to show it, after hearing stories all her life about the terrible treatment her uncle had endured during Indian raids as a kid. Buffalo Creek Woman, though, brings the children clothing and maple sugar, and proceeds to spoil the crap out of them.
Polly sends Livy and Rising Hawk to the mill for flour, and the mill hand proceeds to ask Livy some really inappropriate questions—“Do you belong to him?” and so forth. Rising Hawk greets the hand with a word that in Seneca means “Get away from me, dog.” The sheer amount of detail in this scene makes it clear that this will be a plot point.
Buffalo Creek Wolman spends her time watching Livy spin and learning for herself, and tells Polly effusively what a good worker Livy is and how much she would be respected at their village, Jenuchshadego. Buffalo Creek Woman then spends the rest of her time harassing Gideon and trying to get Livy to go with her, so she can teach the other Indian women how to spin. Gideon and Polly argue about it at length, with Polly saying they can’t possibly spare her and it’s not safe, and Gideon rolling his eyes and telling Polly she coddles too much. The idea is that learning to spin and weave will make the Seneca less dependent on the whites and therefore less vulnerable, and Livy hears all of this while listening at the door. Gideon catches her, of course, and reads her the riot act. Livy tells Gideon all the horrors her uncle told her, and Gideon rolls his eyes at her too, and tells her that Rising Hawk will go with her so there’s nothing she can do about it.
They pack up and head off to Jenuchshadego, where Livy is greeted by Rising Hawk’s sisters, Takes Up The Net, Pretty Girl, and Runs Faster. They take her in and give her some dinner and a place to sleep, but decree that she is a guest who should not be working. Rising Hawk is bitter that he is going to have to stay with her and translate instead of hunting in preparation for the festival coming up. Livy greets an old woman with the same word Rising Hawk told the mill hand, and the woman nearly beats the crap out of Livy before Rising Hawk can explain the mistake. This is an auspicious omen for Livy to start her time there, and indeed the next day Rising Hawk’s grandmother complains at length about how disgusting Livy smells. (This is a rare bit of Truth In Literature, as how gross people probably smelled much of the time, since they almost never discuss this in books.)
Buffalo Creek Woman practically has to hog-tie her and force her into the river to bathe, and Runs Faster teaches her to swim a little bit. Rising Hawk is miserable about spending this much time with her, and teaches her to tie snares to pass the time. He passes by where the girls are swimming and spies briefly, reflecting on how she’s still a child but becoming a woman, and then remembers how he had a Huron woman as a lover “some years back.” Now, wait a minute—Rising Hawk here is only supposed to be about nineteen or twenty, so exactly how long ago was this affair supposed to be? At, say, fifteen? The same age Livy is now? Hmm.
Livy sort-of befriends Runs Faster, and the two of them go with Rising Hawk to check rabbit snares, and Livy is horrified to find one not-quite-dead-yet rabbit. Rising Hawk and Livy argue about who should have to kill it, and Livy is too squeamish to do it, so Runs Faster rolls her eyes and does it. The girls bond over Rising Hawk being an idiot while they prepare corn for the upcoming festival, and they notice Sassafras, a girl who Rising Hawk seems to be particularly keen on, and tease him about her as well.
Meanwhile, back at the Gunns’, Ephraim is making a fool of himself and hardly troubling himself to behave at all. He leaves four-year-old Henry in charge of the fire while going fishing, and Gideon does whip him for that, then immediately regrets it. Once Ephraim has healed up a bit, he runs away and is immediately caught up with a road crew, who question him about who he is and where exactly he’s come from. Eph’s frantic backpedaling does nothing, and the men are able to figure out that Gideon’s family is Seneca and they’ve been coming around a bit too much lately.
At the Green Corn Festival in Jenuchshadego, Livy is having a great time in spite of herself. While she’s watching Rising Hawk play sports, she notices for the first time that he’s good-looking and popular, and Rising Hawk notices a bit more than before how Livy is growing into a young woman. They walk back home together late that night, and Livy teases him a little bit about Sassafras after Rising Hawk pays her a couple of genuine compliments. He’s baffled, again, at why he isn’t infuriated by her teasing like he is when his sisters rag on him, and no prizes for guessing where this is going.
The next morning Livy goes down to the river to bathe, and Rising Hawk follows her and gripes about how women are all obsessed with marriage. Livy tells him pretty coldly that she has no intention of getting married, since “Men have all the fun and women have all the babies.” Rising Hawk tells her about how “women have fun too,” which Livy thinks is just horrifying, and he snots a bit about how “girls who are grown-up like men.” Livy points out that her mother died at only twenty-five in childbirth, and plenty of other women she knows have died giving birth as well, and it’s not worth it to her. Rising Hawk seems to understand this, in hiw own weird way, and gives her a silver medallion to wear to the festival so she’ll shine like the other women. Aww.
The following day, Rising Hawk’s uncle yells at him a bit for being too interested in Livy, who is A) too young and B) white. Rising Hawk storms off all huffy, while Livy is busy giving a demonstration on spinning to the other women in the village. Sassafras collapses in pain, and is taken away from the demonstration, and Runs Faster panics because she’s convinced they’re going to accuse Livy of witchcraft out of jealousy. Rising Hawk asks Livy if she’s done anything that could even be vaguely construed as looking the wrong way, and Livy flatly denies it (obviously). Cold Keeper advises Rising Hawk and Livy to leave at once, and Buffalo Creek Woman tells them to stay because otherwise she’ll look guilty. Rising Hawk’s buddies tell him not to have anything further to do with Livy because she’s clearly working love magic on him, too, and the three boys start fighting in the middle of the longhouse, because they’re teenagers. Livy wades in and cracks Shadow on the head with some firewood, and once the mess has been broken up, Livy and Rising Hawk hightail it out of there on the double.
Meanwhile, Ephraim has been questioned by the local authorities on whether the Gunns have Seneca coming and going, and his terrible lying skills have not improved any at all. Wilkes, the mayor, and a group of local white men come to the Gunns’ house to investigate what’s going on, and the mayor pretty openly says that they’re all drunk and there’s nothing he can do about it. They question him about who he is and what he’s been doing, and they don’t like his answers, but they don’t do anything in the middle of the day. Gideon packs the family into the woods for the night, which is pretty wise, because they come back even drunker and burn the house down. They capture Gideon and, oh my god, one of them GOUGES OUT GIDEON’S EYEBALL WITH HIS FINGERNAILS oh god oh god oh god.
John Gage, the Gunns’ hired man who’s been helping with the harvest, cleans up Gideon and listens to him cry that he’s a failure and there’s no help for it and he may as well just go back to the Seneca and start a war party. John points out that Polly is pregnant, again, and he can’t be an irresponsible teenager and run off and leave her with four babies to look after when he’s the one who’s been getting her pregnant in the first place
Meanwhile, Livy and Rising Hawk are fleeing through the woods after laying a false trail, and arguing the whole while about who’s right and who’s wrong. After traveling for three days, they slow down a bit because Rising Hawk is worried that Livy has a broken rib from her fight. They stop for the night and Livy develops a fever, and Rising Hawk is worried in spite of himself. They kiss—at the same time realizing they’ve had a Slap-Slap-Kiss this whole time—and Livy stops him before he can go any further. Livy keeps telling him that she never wants to get married, and Rising Hawk keeps telling her that they both know they will be forever disappointed if they don’t get married, and Livy can’t face that. The following day she reflects a bit on why she thinks it’s so wrong for different races to pair up, and then she tells Rising Hawk in a sort of roundabout way that maybe he could have “two kinds of wives”—her, for companionship, and maybe Sassafras or someone, for, you know, the other part. The sexy part. Rising Hawk tries not to laugh, realizing that she is very serious, and tells her that the better families don’t practice plural marriage, and Livy says she’d do that before parting from him.
While they’re hiking, Lawson—the same man who pulled out Gideon’s eye that night—shoots Rising Hawk in the leg after spotting them at a distance. Livy loses her shit, grabs Rising Hawk’s rifle, and points it at Lawson, forcing him to bind the wound. He overpowers her, grabs the rifle back, and lets her clean up Rising Hawk before tying her at the wrists and dragging her along with him. He lectures her at length about how evil the Indians are and how he is saving her from herself, and takes her back to the Wilkeses’ place, where Ephraim has been staying.
Wilkes questions Livy pretty thoroughly about what’s going on, and Lawson tries to tell them Rising Hawk was threatening him and he was within his rights to shoot him. Mr. Wilkes panics because this has just become a treaty issue and they’re going to have to deal with the federal authorities, and Livy is still freaking out that Rising Hawk is dying in the woods somewhere, and Ephraim has no idea what’s going on, at all. Livy tells Mrs. Wilkes that she’s pregnant with Rising Hawk’s baby—sick of having them malign the Indians in front of her—and they banish her to the cellar before packing both her and Ephraim back to the Gunns’ first thing in the morning.
Gideon had found Rising Hawk and fixed him up in the meantime, and Eph and Livy are delighted past reason to see Gideon and Polly again. Livy and Rising Hawk have a very sweet reunion, but once he’s healed up he returns to Jenuchshadego and Livy falls into a deep depression. He tells her he’s tired of waiting, and Livy spends the rest of the winter drinking quietly and weaving on the Gunns’ loom. When it comes time for Polly to give birth, Livy is the only woman around to help them, and there’s an extremely graphic childbirth scene for a YA book! (It also gratifyingly subverts the idea that Olden Times women gave birth easily and quickly, since Polly suffers for quite a long time and does her fair share of screaming and bleeding horribly.)
The next month, Gideon receives word that his folks are coming for a visit, and Livy debates with herself what she really wants. Buffalo Creek Woman forgives Livy everything and apologizes for ever doubting her, and Rising Hawk brings them a deer as the traditional bridal gift. Livy confesses that she doesn’t care anymore how badly she’s going to be hurt as long as she can be with Rising Hawk, for all time, forever
Rating: A. Oh my, I loved, loved, loved this book, and it held up fantastically well. It’s a very sweet story with a fair amount of realism, and it doesn’t commit the cardinal sin of presentism. Neither the Indians nor the whites are perfect, and all the characters are flawed in their own way. The love story is pretty seamlessly woven into the background of the racial and civil tensions, and all the associated problems are addressed realistically and sensitively. Oh, it’s so great. Read this book.