For the last leg of my American Girls kick, I read Kaya’s series and have incredibly mixed feelings.
In the long run, I’m more than glad AG finally stepped up with a Native American girl. Although Kaya lives not too soon before the United States were born, she is dated as the earliest living American Girl (so far).
This series is far darker than I remember any AG series being. Lots of people die, and there’s more peril in each book. I enjoyed learning about a culture completely new to me, and saw how spiritualism and nationalism can go hand in hand.
Accompanying Kaya’s family pride is a respect of nature. Nature, in turn, provides for the nation. The Nimíipuu travel the land per the seasons connecting with extensions of the nation and, at the same time, giving thanks.
She felt the presence of the people who had passed this way before her.
Kaya is in tune with how special the earth is to herself and others. This is much more than I can say for the other American Girls thus far, who are typically concerned with only materialism and family, not so much the state of the land or the spiritual connections around her.
What I have beef with concerns stylistic approaches. Most noticeably, the books seem to be out of order, both at first glance and after reading. Each series, up to Kaya, shared similar titles. (Meet, Lesson, Surprise, Birthday, Saves, Changes) You knew “[character] Learns a Lesson” was a school time story. The second book was always a school time story. With Kaya, the second story is titled “Kaya’s Escape!” and has nothing to do with school-like lessons. The plot is more befitting book 5, in which the main character saves the day.
What did they title the fifth book, then? “Kaya Shows the Way.” This book doesn’t show the typical action scene on the front cover like the others. No. It shows Kaya sitting down with someone. SITTING. Come on, AG, I know after reading the series that Kaya is made of much more than that. I feel gipped.
Another way in which I feel gipped is the writing. Despite all Kaya goes through, there isn’t much character development. At least, it didn’t feel that way. It seemed as if author Janet Shaw was trying so hard to describe the scenery that she forgot about the people and personalities. The secondary characters were more interesting to me than Kaya herself, most times.
I’m sure Shaw wanted to portray Kaya as a hopeful person, but I can honestly say I’ve never seen so many rhetorical characters in 50 pages. Kaya once asks herself, “Could these be Two Hawks’ people?” when it’s obvious they are. In another book, Kaya makes note that a herd of horses had disappeared from sight.
Had the lead mare taken the herd where it was cooler?
It’s obvious they moved, of course! She could have instead thought, “The lead might have taken the herd where it was cooler.” Kaya wonders about everything that’s right before her very eyes, but I know it’s not her fault. It’s the writing.
The frontier-like setting reminded me I haven’t read the Kirsten story in a while. Her books had stuck with me as being more boring than the other American Girls, and I now know why; she shares an author with the Kaya series. I may still read Kirsten in the future, but at the moment I’m AG‘ed out.
(I would like to extend my gratitude to Valerie Tripp, the first writer to make me curious about the person behind the words.)
But lastly, I hope the Pleasant Company can have more Native American series. After all, every tribe has lived in the United States longer than anyone.
I’m still waiting for a Japanese-American girl. Since they’ve gone as recent as the 1970s, maybe they’ll have a Japanese girl for the swingin’ 1960s who has some personal trouble after finding out her parents met in a Japanese Internment camp.
I look forward to future American Girls.