The last few books have been pretty good so I figured we’d go back down to earth with a horrible book that made me want to gouge out my own eyes.
Cassie¸ Vivian Schurfranz, 1985.
It’s not a Sunfire book if I’m not screaming incoherently at some point, right? Look at the cover and tell me if that’s not some appallingly racist trash right there. This literally looks like a white girl dressed up in a poorly-made “Indian” Halloween costume. Literally the most blonde, blue-eyed, cheerleader-type model they could find! And her two love interests look suspiciously similar. Everything about this book is already making me upset.
To begin with, the entire premise of this book is crap. “Blonde Cassie Stevens” (which, I’m not kidding, is how she’s introduced on the back cover) was captured by the Iroquois at the age of four and adopted into their tribe. But despite living with them for more than ten years and fully adapting to their ways and language, she’s totally ready to abandon them all for the first white guy to come along. She meets him on page THREE. She’s just chilling having a bath in the river when this fur trapper comes along and drags her out of the water, and she’s just so taken by him that she can’t stop herself from chatting. Also never fully explained: she was taken at the age of four, and perfectly fluent in Iroquois, but apparently has no problem speaking freely and colloquially with this white guy, Joshua. They sort of hand-wave it away by explaining that Cassie was used to chatting with the tribe’s interpreter in English. But…if you stop learning English at age four, aside from occasional conversations, how good is it really going to be? And she has absolutely zero problems.
Also aggravating to me is that she starts talking to this guy about how she was taken from her family within like five minutes of knowing him, and tells him where she came from, and he’s like “Oh, cool, I’ll go there and see if your parents are still around” and she’s like “Why, I’m Iroquois now” and he goes “We’ll see about that.” Joshua, you’re an asshole. Leave her alone. Fuck off. Anyway, even though Cassie is engaged to a guy, Silverblade, who’s away on a war party, she basically cheats on him like crazy with Joshua. They meet every day for like a month, and kiss, and then she’s devastated when he leaves after promising to go look for her parents. Why, Cassie? You’d be better off if Joshua drowned in the river somewhere. Or is that my wishful thinking?
Cassie’s infidelity is discovered by her nemesis, a girl named Little Wolf, who threatens to tell everyone. And then suddenly Cassie’s mother, White Cloud, just up and dies. Since she’s not in poor health, this seems like a convenient way to get her out of the picture so Cassie apparently won’t mind turning her back on the rest of the tribe that’s treated her like a daughter for more than a decade. How nice. (Also there’s an interlude where she’s talking to their interpreter, who brought back some books for her, including The Travels of Marco Polo and Machiavelli’s The Prince and the fucking dictionary. For a girl with zero education. How did she even learn to read? Why am I wondering this? This book is going to make me stroke out.)
So she confesses to Silverblade that she’s a cheating bitch, and then Joshua turns up and Cassie runs away with him. Literally on one page Joshua is like “Your mom’s dead so you have no ties!” and then on the next she’s mourning how she’s going to leave all her friends and relatives. What great editing. Anyway, Joshua’s all excited because he found Cassie’s biological parents, he says they’re great and they can’t wait to see her again. So they travel all the way there, and they spend the whole time laughing and talking and falling in love, and Joshua’s super dreamy and all, but seems to be pretty incompetent at his actual job. At one point Cassie ends up catching them some meat, and he’s like “What would I do without you?” You’re a fucking fur trapper, it’s your job to go hang out in the woods and spend time on your own! How can you be this incompetent at YOUR JOB? I hope he drowns.
Cassie clearly does not feel the same way I do, or if she does she’s better at hiding it, because she spends the whole trip falling desperately in love with Joshua. Once they arrive in the town, Three Pines, Cassie’s white parents are totally thrilled to see her back, but the entire thing is about as emotional as Cassie coming back from a couple of weeks away. Like, hands down the worst part of this dumpster fire of a book is the way that Cassie’s DECADE among the Indians offers absolutely no problems with her reintegration into white society. It isn’t like she spent a couple of weeks traumatized and is back! She was there for more than twice as long as she spent with her white parents! All her formative experiences happened there! She barely remembered her white family! And once she’s back in Three Pines, the only stumbling block she faces is that she can’t manage to call her parents “mother” and “father,” and a couple of people in the town are slightly racist towards her. That’s it. What the hell.
Anyway, coincidentally right next door to Cassie’s parents there’s a handsome young man named Ben and his younger brother, whose parents were killed in an Indian attack some years back. Wow, where could this possibly be going? I have no idea! I can’t figure it out! Obviously he’s super into Cassie, as all men are in this world, and promises to show her around town. Cassie clearly bears no issues from being in a totally different world and culture for the past ten years, and adapts very quickly to living in a white town and hanging around with Ben all the time.
This has all happened at the end of summer and into the fall, and as the winter progresses Cassie learns all the shit she’s supposed to learn and clearly doesn’t worry at all about HER FAMILY whom she left behind, so I’m not the biggest fan of Cassie. Also, stupidity interlude here, Ben says his younger brother is going to finish eighth grade and he only got through sixth, when this is supposed to be taking place in 1763 when GRADED SCHOOLS WEREN’T A THING. Graded schools were largely an invention of the 19th century. Everything about this book is horrible. Anyway, Ben is slowly falling in love with Cassie (which is an odd choice for someone who basically hates all Indians, but as we’ve established, clearly the decade-plus Cassie spent with the Indians didn’t affect her but at ALL), and she’s like “I love him! But I also love Joshua, who fucked off to go do fur-trapping stuff, probably poorly! What will I do?”
Anyway, Ben invites Cassie to go riding, and she wears her buckskin (because of course she does) and Ben FREAKS OUT, like “OMG, why would you wear an Indian costume???” when….everyone here is an idiot. She has a huge fight and ignores him for a while, but continues talking to his brother Jimmy, where she inexplicably tells him that she learned French and classics and arithmetic from the local translator as a child. What is even. I do not know. Through Cassie’s amazingness, Ben is happy to forget everything and keep on keeping on. He proposes to her, and she’s like “I still love Joshua!” and he’s like “Who the fuck is Joshua” and she explains that they kind of maybe a little bit fell in love, and then he left, and Ben’s like “Forget him! He’s a fur trapper! Let’s just get married and live our lives here and forget everything bad that’s ever happened to us!” Ben’s an idiot.
Also there’s a brief interlude where Ben Franklin appears for no other reason than to make me tear my hair out. Anyway, let’s move right on to an evening when Cassie’s father arranges for a dance at the inn, and almost everyone in the town is invited and they have a rip-roaring party. Everyone’s getting merrily drunk and Cassie finds herself standing near a group of dudes who are discussing attacking Mecotan, Cassie’s Indian village. All loudly! Then they’re like “Let’s go outside where there are no eavesdroppers.” You fool, don’t stand around loudly talking about your attack plans AT A FUCKING PARTY and then complain that people can hear you! You deserve to have your attack spoiled and die horribly in the woods! I hate everyone here.
Cassie is like “By gum, I need to warn all of the Indians at Mecotan! I mean, aside from the fact that I’ve never given them a thought since leaving, now I’m concerned!” so she steals away in the night to head out and warn them. She ends up racing the men in the attacking party there, and one point falls into a wolf trap and has to scrabble her way out of it, and she finally gets close enough that she runs into—oh goodness—Little Wolf, her nemesis from Mecotan! Who is like “What the hell happened to you? You look a mess and we thought you went to go live with the white people,” which, fair. Cassie tells her about the attack and Little Wolf is like “why should I believe you?” which, again, fair. And Cassie tells her she would never lie, and Little Wolf is all “Oh, okay. Here, let me mend all your injuries” and then tells her how she hated Cassie because she was so beautiful and smart. Uh, what? Then somehow they become friends (???), and Cassie confesses she doesn’t know where she’ll belong after this, and then the attack party stumbles upon them!
They capture Cassie, but Little Wolf gets away to warn everyone (probably should have done that first instead of dicking around braiding each other’s hair, but whatever). Then they take Cassie back to Three Pines and threaten her with treason—and one night along the way Cassie escapes and manages to find her way to a fucking BEAR’S CAVE (this is the point where I threw my hands up and just went “What the hell?” if you’re wondering), and escapes from the bear straight back into the arms of the men. So what was the point of that.
They bring her back to Three Pines and throw her in jail, and Ben and Cassie’s biological parents come and visit her there and promise to get her out before they hang her. She hears that her hanging will be delayed, and then Ben is like “Psych! They’re not going to wait! You’re going to be hanged tomorrow morning after all.” And the night before, guess who turns up? JOSHUA. Why? How? Who knows! Who cares! He comes up with a plan for her to escape by using Molly and Ephraim—the entire plan is basically that Molly and Cassie will switch clothes, no one will notice until it’s too late, and they’ll have to let Molly go free and Cassie will be long gone. Brilliant! Well, I could come up with some other words for it, but fine.
Also Cassie’s like “But what about Ben?” and Molly is like “Oh, Ben understands that you could never live here, and Ben approves of Joshua, so it’s fine.” What the hell? But they pull it off, and Cassie manages to get out and runs into one of the men who captured her, and Joshua turns up and beats him up and Cassie and Joshua flee into the woods. Joshua proposes, they agree to get married at one of the forts, and he promises never to complain that she wears buckskin and she promises to always help him trap furs. The horrible end.
Rating: D. Everyone in this book is throwing around the Idiot Ball real hard, OR they just suck. Cassie apparently harbours no identity issues or crises, and her biggest problem is which boy she likes. The boys in question just kind of suck. Everyone in this book is horrible, this book has no redeeming value, and it’s not even enjoyable to read! Plus bonus racism! Too many crazy things happen for no reason! Why is there even an encounter with a bear? I’m so confused. Condemn this one to the trash heap.