Now 2024 Previous Articles Road Essays Road Reviews Author Black Authors Title Source Age Genre Series Format Inclusivity LGBTA+ Artwork WIP

Recent posts

Month in review

50 Underwear Questions by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in Action by James Sturm
Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong
Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast by Bill Richardson
Blameless by Gail Carriger
The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers by Lilian Jackson Braun
Chopping Spree by Diane Mott Davidson
The Crows of Pearblossom by Aldous Huxley
Daffodil by Noël Kingsbury
The Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman
Double Shot by Diane Mott Davidson
Flowers for Mrs. Harris by Paul Gallico
Gulp by Mary Roach
How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg
Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein
Into the Gauntlet by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Mr. Flux by Kyo Maclear
Rooftop Cat by Frank Le Gall
Scholastic Dictionary of Spelling by Marvin Terban
Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems
Song for Papa Crow by Marit Menzin
Soulless: The Manga, Vol. 1 by Gail Carriger
This Perfect Day by Ira Levin
Super Boys by Brad Ricca
Trash Can Days: A Middle School Saga by Teddy Steinkellner
The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A.E. van Vogt
Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer
Way Station by Clifford D. Simak
Where Do The Animals Go When It Rains? by Janet S. Crown

Previous month

Rating System

5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish

Reading Challenges

Beat the Backlist 2024

Ozathon: 12/2023-01/2025

Canadian Book Challenge: 2023-2024

Chicken Prints
Paintings and Postcards

Privacy policy

This blog does not collect personal data. It doesn't set cookies. Email addresses are used to respond to comments or "contact us" messages and then deleted.

Waterless Mountain: 09/18/13

cover art

Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer won the 1931 Newbery Award for its depiction of life on the Navajo (written Navaho in the book) reservation. The introduction says the author made a name for herself for being one of the first Caucasians to successfully live among the Navajo.

Despite the enthusiastic introduction, it took me a while to get into the story of Younger Brother. It starts as the boy decides to begin his training to be a Singer (haatali). Although later on Armer demonstrates her knowledge of Diné bizaad, these early chapters rely almost exclusively on translation. While "Younger Brother" is a completely normal affectation within the family structure, it sounds odd in English — especially capitalized as a proper noun.

Later on, as Younger Brother grows and explores beyond the family hogan and land, he earns a nickname and his warrior name. Along with that, he also meets people from outside Dinétah and to emphasize the cultural shock of hearing a language other than his own, Armer tosses in more Navajo vocabulary.

Just as Mandarin transliteration has changed since its been taken over by native speakers, so has Diné bizaad (which only recently has become a written language). There are still differences between Arizona and New Mexico dialects, but not as extreme as the differences between 1930s transcription and the modern day written language. Just as Beijing was once Peking, belagaana (white / non-Navajo) is rendered here as "pelicano."

Even with these oddities in the language, Younger Brother's story transcends normal expectation for a coming of age story about a young Native American boy. Instead of it being a typical spirit quest that highlights the cliché of the noble savage, it's an honest to goodness story of a young man trying to put all the pieces of his life into a coherent internal narrative. He does complete his haatali training; He also falls in love with airplanes. Those two things bring him to the conclusion that he must head west to Turquoise Woman's island (see my review of The Gathering for more on her).

Now this quest I expected to end at the western sacred mountain (near Flagstaff). But it doesn't. Instead the quest takes on a similar direction as Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel (review coming) — thus bringing Younger Brother an the rest of his family out of the comfort of the Waterless Mountain area to Santa Barbara.

That unexpected trip both floored me and delighted me. Although my initial drive to learn more about the Diné began near Flagstaff, it was at U.C. Santa Barbara that I had the first opportunity to do so.

Four stars

Comments (0)

Lab puppy
Email (won't be posted):
Blog URL:

Twitter Tumblr Mastadon Flickr Facebook Facebook Contact me

1997-2024 Sarah Sammis