Hidden Roots

by Joseph Bruchac

So many things in 11-year-old Sonny’s life are a mystery. Why can’t he... read more

So many things in 11-year-old Sonny’s life are a mystery. Why can’t he stand up to the kids at school who bully him? Why is his father filled with so much anger that at times he can’t contain it, beating his mother black and blue? How does Uncle Louis manage to show up at the door whenever Sonny and his mother need him most? In Joseph Bruchac’s quietly gripping story set in 1954, many of the answers are tied to a shameful and tragic episode in U.S. history: the Vermont Eugenics Project, a law that promoted “voluntary sterilization” but in truth forced sterilization on many individuals, often those who were poor, or sick, or—as Sonny discovers with his own family—Indian. Sonny doesn’t know that his mother and father are Abenaki Indian until the day he comes home from school and asks Uncle Louis how the Holocaust could have happened. It is then that Uncle Louis decides Sonny is ready to hear the truth about their family history, including the fact that he is Sonny’s grandfather. Uncle Louis made the difficult decision to give up his daughter, Sonny’s mother, when she was a schoolgirl so that she could live with a loving family he knew in New York state. As devastating as the decision was for both of them, it would be a chance for her to escape the tragedy and identity that had already taken her own mother’s life. But Uncle Louis always remained close, and has been quietly passing on their culture to Sonny without ever giving it a name. Despite the intensity of the subject matter, Bruchac’s first-person narrative never feels too heavy. Sonny is an observant, sensitive, and ultimately resilient child who has strong adults supporting him—from his mother and grandfather to a wonderful librarian at school. And difficult information is revealed to him in a manner appropriate to his age. While the domestic violence aspect of the narrative is wrapped up a little too easily (Bruchac himself acknowledges this possibility in his author’s note but also provides a reason), it doesn’t detract from the overall impact of this singular story. (Ages 11–14)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2005

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