By: Samantha Specks

Published: August 24, 2021

Publisher: SparkPress

Historical Fiction

5 stars

My absolute favorite thing about reading historical fiction is learning something from our past that causes me to pause and reflect on what previous generations have gone through. Once I started this book, I knew that it would be a five-star read for me and it whole-heartedly was.

During a visit to her grandparents’ home for the Christmas holiday in Minnesota in 2005, author Samantha Specks came across men riding on horseback. She couldn’t understand why Native American men were riding horses in December across Minnesota. Her mom explained they were riding to remember the thirty-eight plus two Dakota-Sioux men that were hanged in the largest execution in US history. This set off a fifteen-year journey of research, learning, and writing for Specks which culminated in this book.

Oenikika, a young Dakota, the daughter of Chief Little Crow, has never known her mother who died in childbirth. She loyally cares for her grandmother and for her father. When her father returns from a long trip East to meet with the Great White Father, (President Abraham Lincoln) everything in Oenikika’s life is about to change.

Emma Heard is the middle child in her family. She is deeply saddened that her schooling is done and her teacher is leaving to teach in Iowa City, far away. She dreams of being a teacher, maybe even teaching her younger siblings and the other children of New Ulm. Her parents don’t understand her dreams and feel that her life is best here on the farm.

The fate of these two women collides in an unbelievable way. As each woman shares her story in alternating chapters, the lives of a young Native American and a young white woman become intertwined, forever changing their futures. The events that led up to the December 26, 1862, execution unfold before you, and with empathy, shock, and despair you realize this really happened in America, in the heart of the Midwest.

Specks writes in the voice of Oenikika so well, I felt part of the tribe and understood her resistance to the growing changes due to the White Man around her and her need to connect to the Earth. As Oenikika, her father, and grandmother begin to move into a white man’s home, her reaction and aversion to her new surroundings were so eye-opening to me.

“I moved to the side of the room and looked out the clear openings in the wall. What a peculiar feeling: looking out from the inside. The house traps you, so you make these windows, to feel like you can escape.”

Oenikaka DOVETAILS IN TALL GRASS by Samantha Specks

Emma was a smart but meek daughter who respected the rules of her parents. But, as she begins to travel into town to help her father in his law office, she starts forming new opinions about her family, her community, and her own beliefs.

“My father’s vague assurances rang hollow. Even I realized how empty the promise would be to the men with hungry eyes. Something quite horrible, something quite unfair I worried, was happening to the men across from me.”

Emma Heard DOVETAILS IN TALL GRASS by Samantha Sparks

I’m ashamed to admit that I knew nothing of this event or of the memorial ride that has happened for years on December 26. Maybe schools in Minnesota share this important event in their history classes, but I am certain it isn’t shared here in Iowa. This treaty that was promised to the Native American tribes by President Abraham Lincoln was not followed through until it was too late. I ached for the families who were starving with no food or means to hunt and fish or gather berries. I’m outraged that even in the 1860s, our government allowed something like this to happen.

If you love historical fiction about real events, especially those that happened right here in America, then I highly recommend you pick up this novel. Be prepared to feel outrage, sympathy, sadness, and yet joy and hope for Oenikaka and Emma as you read their stories.

In closing, I have to tell you that Samantha Specks is generous and loyal to the people she writes so eloquently about. My nephew is a high school English teacher in a Northern Minnesota reservation school. When this book arrived in my mailbox, I immediately told my nephew about it, asking him about this specific event in our history. I promised I would send the book to him as soon as I finished it. Then, while reading the book, I shared a picture of it on Instagram, tagging Specks. She quickly responded, thanking me for reading it. I told her about my nephew and my plan for sharing the book with him so he can share it with his students. She immediately offered to send him his own copy. True to her word, my nephew received an autographed copy of the book stating, “I feel like a big timer! My book nerd friends will be jealous!” Thank you to Samantha Specks for telling the story of the Dakota 38 and for generously sharing a copy of the book with my nephew and his students.

Samantha Specks is a clinical social worker who has worked on a child/adolescent psychiatric unit, as a Dialectical Behavioral group therapist with adults and adolescents, and as an outpatient psychotherapist. She currently lives in Texas, but her heart and mind resided in Minnesota, her home state, while working on this, her debut novel. Her happy place is reading a good book or watching a terrible TV show with a cup of tea and her leggings covered in dog hair. Sticking with the theme of strong young women, Samantha and her husband welcomed a baby girl to their family while she was writing this novel.

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Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. This review is my honest opinion. If you choose to make a purchase through the above links, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase.
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