Set Me Free

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Secrets are unveiled and histories explored in Beverly-Whittemore's sophomore novel that follows the small mélange of family and friends surrounding Elliott Barrow, the idealist founder of a school for Native American children. The book's frequently narrated by Cal Fleecing, a Native American who returned to his Oregon reservation after failing to complete his Harvard graduate coursework 17 years earlier. He meets Elliot on the reservation and helps him set up Ponderosa Academy, Elliot's dream school, in Stolen, Ore. But off the record, and to the reader, Cal's jealous of Elliot's charisma and annoyed at his optimism, feelings somewhat shared by Elliot's 17-year-old daughter, Amelia, returned home from a Portland conservatory, and Elliot's first wife, Helen Bernstein, a New York City theater director recruited by Elliot to direct a student production of The Tempest. In a separate plot set seven months ahead of Helen's arrival in Stolen, 17-year-old Willa Llewlyn is being driven across country from Connecticut by her father, Nat, to meet Elliot for reasons Nat'sreluctant to make clear. Though the hidden connections between characters aren't exactly surprising, the allusions to Shakespeare and shifts in time and perspective make for an intriguing read. (Mar.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446533317
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/14/2007
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.62 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Set Me Free

A Novel
By Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

WARNER BOOKS

Copyright © 2007 Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-446-53331-7


Prologue

Spoken by CAL

When I was a little boy, Maw-Maw would often take me on her lap and tell me about Our Way. I took Our Way to mean the Traditional Indian Way, the Neige Courante Way, because she was my toothless grandmother and her hair fell in two frayed plaits beside her face and she sometimes wore a buckskin dress that smelled of wood smoke and, on occasion, of the living thing that had once been in it. So I will never forget the moment I realized what Our Way really meant; the afternoon's shame is still vivid in my mind, though it shames me no more. Now I am quite fond of my boyhood embarrassment, because it is one of the few things I have from the time when Maw-Maw was the only world I knew.

I was seven years old. There were two boys who lived two houses down, with their own grandmother. This other grandmother was powerful on our reservation. This other grandmother was beautiful and well dressed. She had all her own teeth. Her hair was cut short and styled well, and her grandsons wore ironed shirts and brand-new Converse sneakers. I wanted to impress these grandsons. They were older than I. They had been to the Pendleton rodeo and showed cattle at the county fair. They could really play some basketball. I thought if I showed off for them by singing the tribal song Maw-Maw had taught me, then perhaps they would invite me to play with them. A game of Horse maybe, or Twenty-one. Nothing elaborate. "That will only be the beginning," I told myself, staring up at my ceiling in the quiet night. "Once we play together, they'll love me. They'll invite me into their world of vacuums and penny candy and blue-black Levi's. Before I know it, we'll be like brothers."

So I sang, and the whole time I thought, "I am borrowing Maw-Maw's voice." I had to imagine I was borrowing her voice to get the notes right, and to remember what I was supposed to say.

The quality of mercy is not strange, hey-eh, hey-eh. It falleth as a gentle rain from hea-ven.

Those boys started laughing at me right away. "Does that sound like an Indi'n song to you? Do those sound like Indi'n words?" And then they laughed until they cried. When they were still catching their breath, one said, "That's a loony old woman you live with. Better watch out you don't catch her crazy bugs," and they ran off and left me alone, yearning after them. I tried to take my pride in hand. I tried to quell my anger. I went inside and found Maw-Maw in the kitchen, humming to herself. I asked her for the first time in my life, "Maw-Maw, is Our Way the Indi'n Way? Or is it the Indian Way? Or is it the Traditional Way? Or is it the Neige Courante Way?" And she looked at me and laughed. The laugh she had that showed her gums and rattled her so deep, it felt like she might die right there. The laugh that scared me because I could not reach her when she was caught in it.

"All you need to know," she said when her breath had settled, "is Our Way is My Way. There is no Indian Way, fool. 'Indi'n' is just another way of saying you're Indian yourself. That has nothing to do with Our Way. Maybe there is a Neige Courante Way. Maybe there is a Lakota Way. A Crow Way. A Hopi Way. But there is also a Chinese Way. An Irish Way. A million other Ways. Really, My Way is to learn the Human Way. Maybe that's Traditional. But that's not important. This is: you are a human living under my roof. You eat my food. You will live by My Way, which is Our Way. The Human Way. Understand?" I nodded, because I was often a little scared of how much she knew, but really, I didn't understand at all.

I have only, in these last few days, realized that you may be the only person in the world who understands what this story says about my deepest truth: I do not often understand until it is too late.

When that same Maw-Maw set to dying, it was the summer I turned twelve. Two weeks into her bed rest, she had me crawl on my hands and knees and root around on the dusty floor underneath her bed. I knew her under-the-bed place was where she kept her most powerful, precious things, and so, when she asked me to do this task for her, I was afraid. It meant, for sure, she was dying.

In my search for what she wanted, I had to touch a yellowed cloth diaper, neatly folded into fourths; a bone necklace that once held powerful magic; and one silver earring tied in an embroidered handkerchief. Every time I came up for air, she prodded me with the end of her cane. "That isn't it! Keep looking!" She didn't tell me what she was looking for until I had it in my hands.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Set Me Free by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore Copyright © 2007 by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 20, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I read the last 2/3s of this book in one setting!

    absolutely perfect! I loved this book, the story, the merging of so many points of view. Great ending! Once I got almost to the middle of the book, I just couldn't stand having to put it down, so I stayed up until 3am to finish it. I am so glad I just happened to pick this book up at the library.<BR/>About 4 years ago I read a book that was so good it kind of "ruined" me as far as REALLY liking anything I've read since. This book has reignited my passion for reading. Big thanks to the Author for sharing such a beautiful book-beginning to end- with all of us that enjoy taking a little piece of the story away with us when we close the book for the last time. (Cane River by Lalita Tademy was the book I read)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2007

    Engaging page turner

    I thoroughly enjoyed Set Me Free from beginning to end. I didn't want to put the book down and when I did I found myself thinking about the characters. I loved the characters Amelia, Helen and Willa and felt that I personally knew them. For a book that spans decades and a continent, it was extremely easy to follow. Miranda Beverly-Whittemore's Set Me Free is a must-read.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    delightful contemporary fiction

    Friends, family and those he has helped consider Elliott Barrow an idealistic ethical icon. When Native American Cal Fleecing returns from Harvard to his reservation home in Oregon he meets the charismatic caring Elliot and they become close friends with a vision. They open up the Ponderosa Academy in Stolen, Oregon with a dream to provide quality education to Native Americans. --- However, Cal hides from Elliot his resentment that everyone thinks the world of the man while ignoring Cal¿s hardworking contributions. Elliot's first wife theater director Helen Bernstein arrives from Manhattan to direct The Tempest at the school. At about the same time she comes to Stolen, Elliot¿s teenage daughter Amelia (from another deceased wife) leaves Portland and seventeen years old Willa Llewellyn leaves Connecticut to arrive at the school. Cal realizes he has comrades who share with him resentment of Elliot¿s constant Pollyanna upbeat philosophy while the offspring pushes hard to learn what really happened to her late mother. When everyone converges in Stolen, Elliot finds himself at the center of a tempest as his statue crumbles from the pedestal. --- SET ME FREE is a delightful contemporary work of fiction with a bit of a mystery (the link between the players though somewhat obvious because the hub is evident) due to the strong ties to Shakespeare as all the key players provide perspectives with references back to the Bard especially the Tempest. The story line predominantly focuses on the relationships between Elliot and everyone else including his late wife as secrets surface in which the others demand of the magnetic Elliot to ¿SET ME FREE¿ from his vision, the last words of the Tempest. --- Harriet Klausner

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