A Yellow Raft in Blue Water (1987)

by Michael Dorris

Featuring three generations of American Indian women, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water is told in the first person by each generation, beginning with the youngest, 15-year-old Rayona; then her mother, Christine; and finally the mother/grandmother who's known as Aunt Ida. Each character's perspective fills in and rounds out the reader's understanding of all three.

Rayona (or Ray, as she is known) is the product of her mother's on-and-off marriage with a black man. As the story begins, Christine drives Ray from their home in Seattle to the Montana Indiana reservation and without explanation leaves Ray with the stern and taciturn Aunt Ida. Ray runs away and finds temporary work at a campground until she's discovered and returned to the reservation.

In Christina's chapter, we not only learn why she left her daughter — she is terminally ill — but also go backward to her youth on the reservation. We hear about her loss of faith and her close bond with her brother Lee, whom she prodded into service in Vietnam and who died there.

Aunt Ida has the final story, and her revelation of a family secret helps to account for her silence and mysteriousness. Unknown to her daughter and granddaughter, she quietly sacrificed herself for the sake of family.

Dorris, who was of Native American descent, offers a rare look at contemporary life on a reservation, but this is really a universal story about mothers and daughters and the stages of life. The book ends with Ida, but the future belongs to Ray, and she is easily the most likable character. One expects that Ray, brave, smart, and resourceful, is going to break out of the cycle of secrets and resentment that debilitated her mother and grandmother.


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