Although the Abenaki peoples were hard hit by the eugenics movement, the Survey did not specifically target Indians because we were Indians, but rather because of our ways of living. As information about the Abenaki peoples, The Darkness Under the Water fails. Mollys self-absorption is far more typical of modern American young adults than of a young woman of that time, place and family. And the endingMama kills the nurse whom she thought sterilized her and killed her baby, Papa and Henry then dispose of the body, Mama then dies of infection from the botched surgery, and Molly plans to walk off into the sunset with her Indian braveare reminiscent of a reality show that any TV network would turn down as being too sensational. Lastly, in an authors note, Kanell writes that recently, Vermont gave state recognition to the Abenaki people, but that their disappearance for so many years has prevented the federal government from recognizing the tribe. The Abenaki acknowledge many family bands throughout Vermont, but the state government recognizes us only as a minority group, with none of the rights of a tribal entity.
Ms. Kanell does a disservice to Native people whose lives were, and are, affected by sterilization programs. The program and the lives of Abenaki people is sensationalized by Kanell. My site "American Indians in Children's Literature" has extensive discussions of the book, including a review by two Abenaki women.
The history and New England setting were woven seamlessly into a young adult coming-of-age novel about a young woman questioning her roots and traditions as she is poised on the verge of her future.
I found this an interesting read, since i definitely started the book with preconceived notions. The main controversy stems around a potential sterilization scene in the middle of the book. Any remaining ambiguity is removed when the grandmother specifically tells Molly that the nurses made it so Caro couldn't have babies anymore.
The novel is the story of Molly Ballou, an Abenaki Indian living in Vermont at the time of the Vermont Eugenics project. Kanell leaves it open whether the nurses are responsible for the baby's death, or the subsequent internal injuries that eventually kill Mrs. Ballou.
The book skews the reality of the Vermont Eugenics and does a disservice to the truth of such Eugenics Program's intentions and reality at the time the Program was in operation in New England.
Molly, a 16-year-old girl of Abenaki and French Canadian descent, finds herself suddenly the object of jeers in her small logging town, and immediately thinks that hiding her heritage is the best way to help her family.
One part of the story I felt was unnecessary was the voice of Molly's dead older sister. Throughout the story, Molly is haunted by Gratia and she hears her voice all the time, telling her she isn't good enough. It tried to tell the story of the unfairness and harshness of the Eugenics movement in the early 20th century and the suffering that people of different races felt at the hands of the sterilization programs, but that wasn't the end result. Throughout this scene, the nurses explain what they are doing to Molly and say that their drastic treatment is necessary to save her mother's life. Later in the book, the nurses' treatments are called into question by the grandmother. Molly's mother is sick with childbed fever and the grandmother charges herself with nursing her back to health. Grandmother tells Molly that it was the nurses' fault that her mother is sick. The claims against the nurses all seem to stem from the Grandmother and are accepted by nearly everybody without question and it feels like the author assumes the reader will, too.
Endlessly in love with Vermont, she began bringing the most fascinating parts of its history into her narratives, and discovered that what she really likes after all is writing fiction that explores the lives of young people caught up in the force of change. Along with years of historical prowling for the book, Beth relied on family narratives from the residents of small Vermont towns like Waterford, St. Johnsbury, West Barnet, Barnet, Peacham, and Danville.