Title: School for Tricksters
Author: Chris Galaver
Publisher: Southern Methodist University Press
Genre: Historical Fiction
Themes: Racial Identity
Age Range: 7th-12th Grade
In School for Tricksters, Gavaler examines racial identity through the true, though fictionalized, lives of Ivy and Sylvester. Ivy is an orphaned white girl trying to move up in the world, Sylvester is a black Southerner trying to escape the Jim Crow south. Both end up at Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania-a school designed for assimilating Native Americans into mainstream society. Both of them are "passing" as Indian in order to escape their poor upbringing. Through Carlisle they come into contact with some famous-or infamous-names. Pop Warner, activist Angela De Cora and her husband Lone Star Deitz (himself passing as Indian to further his sports career) and future Olympian Jim Thorpe. Told in alternating stories about each main character, the book shows the ultimate price for "pretending" to be someone you are not.
Gavaler takes on a shameful period in American history-the destruction of Native American culture through forced attendance and boarding schools-and turn it on its head. This is not a story of Native Americans overcoming the threat to their identity, but rather the affects of defining people by race at all. While the very idea of someone having to "pass" is abhorrent, you can't help but understand the impulse. Our racial policies over the years have pitted groups against each other, causing people to act against their own long term interests to try and get ahead. This book would be a great way to introduce the idea of passing and what that meant to people of different backgrounds. Ivy and Sylvester are both written in a way that is promotes thoughtful discussion about character motivation and the narrative structure showcases a different way of thinking about storytelling.