Laughing Boy

by Oliver La Farge

Set in the year 1915, in the Navajo nation. Laughing Boy is a young man attending a large gathering where there are dances, horse races, trading and gambling. He’s excited to compete with his favorite pony and make some good trades, but something momentous happens when Slim Girl catches his eye. He’s fascinated by her bold behavior, when she speaks to him directly (something a proper girl would never do) and on impulse, they decide soon after to run off and get married. Laughing Boy hears rumors from others and faces criticism from his family about Slim Girl- she’s bad they say. She’s not a proper Navajo. He doesn’t understand what they’re talking about. Slim Girl had been taken away by the Americans when she was a little girl, sent to a boarding school where her language and culture were forbidden (to put it mildly). She is full of bitterness against the Americans and desperately wants to rejoin The People. She sees her union with Laughing Boy as a way back in, and for a time, this seems to work. They set up a little household together on the outskirts of a small dusty American town, where Slim Girl has a job she doesn’t want to leave, quite yet. I was surprised after closing the final pages, to think back and realize how much Slim Girl reminded me of Scarlett in some aspects! She wanted security, wanted to earn and save up money so she and Laughing Boy could return with wealth to live among the Navajo among respect and admiration. Unfortunately, her means to that goal were also her undoing.

There were many parts of this story I really enjoyed. Reading of this young couple’s determination to flaunt the norms- Laughing Boy ignoring all the whispers about his wife and refusing to believe any ill of her, certain they were wrong and that he could make a happy home. Slim Girl’s stubborn desire to learn skills that were taken for granted by other Navajo women and she struggled with- mainly weaving, but other things as well. Their joy in each other, and the complications that arose when doubts crept into their relationship, becoming a gap they struggled to repair. The one thing I felt dubious about was the casual mention of Slim Girl’s years in the boarding school. While it was obvious she was somewhat traumatized and turned callous by that experience, I felt like it could have been dealt with in much greater depth. Perhaps it was written this way though, because most of the story is told from Laughing Boy’s perspective, and he never really understood what an impact that experience had on her.

This book won a Pulitzer in 1930. Sadly, it’s one of those that I feel dismayed about, when looking up more info after I’m done reading. The author is not Native American, he wrote from outside the culture, though he spent several years working in Navajo territory, and admired them greatly. But it sounds like he got a lot of it wrong: American Indians in Children’s Literature. Regardless, I still think it’s a good story, I’m just disappointed it’s got false portrayals. (And I would really like to know what aspects of the culture were inaccurate here, but I haven’t done the info digging to find out yet).

Rating: 4/5
302 pages, 1929

More opinions:
The Blue Bookcase
Musings
anyone else?

3 Responses

  1. I feel like I might have read this one as a kid, but a young kid and so I missed a lot. It sounds really familiar though, especially the names.

    Too bad it was written by a non-Native American, but I guess if it was published so long ago, that’s not surprising. I wonder if Native Americans could even be published at all, pre-1930s?

    1. It was actually noteworthy in being the first book (so far as I know) about Native Americans to win an esteemed prize, thus bringing it to the attention of the public. So there’s that!

  2. Sounds like maybe the author’s heart was in the right place, but his head was not. Good intentions is not a real excuse for making cultural representation mistakes, but I don’t think I like the idea either of “banning” writers from writing similar books even if they are not born into the culture. I realize it’s a fine line to walk, but after watching Jeanine Cummins being clobbered for “American Dirt,” I’m more sympathetic than I would have otherwise been.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

DISCLAIMER:

All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL:

Subscribe to my blog:

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

VIEW MY PERSONAL COLLECTION:

TRADE BOOKS WITH ME ON:

ARCHIVES: 

2024
January 2024 (21)February 2024 (15)
2023
January 2023 (27)February 2023 (23)March 2023 (25)April 2023 (11)May 2023 (17)June 2023 (11)July 2023 (23)August 2023 (23)September 2023 (14)October 2023 (14)November 2023 (26)December 2023 (14)
2022
January 2022 (12)February 2022 (7)March 2022 (13)April 2022 (16)May 2022 (13)June 2022 (21)July 2022 (15)August 2022 (27)September 2022 (10)October 2022 (17)November 2022 (16)December 2022 (23)
2021
January 2021 (14)February 2021 (13)March 2021 (14)April 2021 (7)May 2021 (10)June 2021 (5)July 2021 (10)August 2021 (27)September 2021 (16)October 2021 (11)November 2021 (14)December 2021 (12)
2020
January 2020 (14)February 2020 (6)March 2020 (10)April 2020 (1)May 2020 (10)June 2020 (15)July 2020 (13)August 2020 (26)September 2020 (10)October 2020 (9)November 2020 (16)December 2020 (22)
2019
January 2019 (12)February 2019 (9)March 2019 (5)April 2019 (10)May 2019 (9)June 2019 (6)July 2019 (18)August 2019 (13)September 2019 (13)October 2019 (7)November 2019 (5)December 2019 (18)
2018
January 2018 (17)February 2018 (18)March 2018 (9)April 2018 (9)May 2018 (6)June 2018 (21)July 2018 (12)August 2018 (7)September 2018 (13)October 2018 (15)November 2018 (10)December 2018 (13)
2017
January 2017 (19)February 2017 (12)March 2017 (7)April 2017 (4)May 2017 (5)June 2017 (8)July 2017 (13)August 2017 (17)September 2017 (12)October 2017 (15)November 2017 (14)December 2017 (11)
2016
January 2016 (5)February 2016 (14)March 2016 (5)April 2016 (6)May 2016 (14)June 2016 (12)July 2016 (11)August 2016 (11)September 2016 (11)October 2016 (9)November 2016 (1)December 2016 (3)
2015
January 2015 (9)February 2015 (9)March 2015 (11)April 2015 (10)May 2015 (10)June 2015 (2)July 2015 (12)August 2015 (13)September 2015 (16)October 2015 (13)November 2015 (10)December 2015 (14)
2014
January 2014 (14)February 2014 (11)March 2014 (5)April 2014 (15)May 2014 (12)June 2014 (17)July 2014 (22)August 2014 (19)September 2014 (10)October 2014 (19)November 2014 (14)December 2014 (14)
2013
January 2013 (25)February 2013 (28)March 2013 (18)April 2013 (21)May 2013 (12)June 2013 (7)July 2013 (13)August 2013 (25)September 2013 (24)October 2013 (17)November 2013 (18)December 2013 (20)
2012
January 2012 (21)February 2012 (19)March 2012 (9)April 2012 (23)May 2012 (31)June 2012 (21)July 2012 (19)August 2012 (16)September 2012 (4)October 2012 (2)November 2012 (7)December 2012 (19)
2011
January 2011 (26)February 2011 (22)March 2011 (18)April 2011 (11)May 2011 (6)June 2011 (7)July 2011 (10)August 2011 (9)September 2011 (14)October 2011 (13)November 2011 (15)December 2011 (22)
2010
January 2010 (27)February 2010 (19)March 2010 (20)April 2010 (24)May 2010 (22)June 2010 (24)July 2010 (31)August 2010 (17)September 2010 (18)October 2010 (11)November 2010 (13)December 2010 (19)
2009
January 2009 (23)February 2009 (26)March 2009 (32)April 2009 (22)May 2009 (18)June 2009 (26)July 2009 (34)August 2009 (31)September 2009 (30)October 2009 (23)November 2009 (26)December 2009 (18)
2008
January 2008 (35)February 2008 (26)March 2008 (33)April 2008 (15)May 2008 (29)June 2008 (29)July 2008 (29)August 2008 (34)September 2008 (29)October 2008 (27)November 2008 (27)December 2008 (24)
2007
August 2007 (12)September 2007 (28)October 2007 (27)November 2007 (28)December 2007 (14)
2006
2005
2004
2003
2002
2001
2000
1999
1998
1997
1996
1995
1994
1993
1992
1991
1990
1989
1988
1987
1986
1985
1984
1983
1982
1981
1980
1979
1978
1977
1976
1975
1974
1973
1972
1971
1970
1969
1968
1967
1966
1965
1964
1963
1962
1961
1960
1959
1958
1957
1956
1955
1954
1953
1952
1951
1950