Last Child: a novel
Michael Spooner
Henry Holt and Company 
ISBN 978-0805077391
256 pages

last child

“But you’re only half white, Rosie girl,” my father said.

“And which half is that?” I demanded. “Right or left? Exactly where am I so different from you?”

Rosalie’s biggest problem used to be her own divided feelings. The constant tug-of-war between her white half and her Mandan half has always been difficult. She even has two names: Rosalie when she’s at the fort with her father and Last Child when she’s in the village with her two mothers.

But now everything is falling apart. A steamboat captain has unleashed smallpox in Rosalie’s world. Though the white men at Fort Clark have resistance to the disease, the Mandans do not. Suddenly, the name Last Child becomes all too real.

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"The horrific effects of the "white man's disease" are effectively shown, and Rosalie's character and world are fully realized. A fine historical novel bringing an important chapter in American history to life for young readers." –Kirkus

"Powerful . . ." –NEA Today

"Spooner has written a compelling story, historically accurate with a vivid setting, and yet colored with sparkling characters." –School Library Journal

"Action-packed prose; sharp, witty dialogue; and strong characterization . . . wonderfully suited to examining issues of cultural conflict and mixed-race youth." –VOYA

Best Books of 2005 (Past, 12 & up) –Bank Street School of Education

Spur Finalist Award 2006, Western Writers of America

"This is a deftly composed tale of identity, adventure, and vengeance. . . . [W]hatever race she chooses for herself will fall secondary to the one those around her dictate for her . . . and this realization adds even further depth." –Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

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Rosalie first appeared in the book Daniel's Walk. Many readers of Daniel's Walk liked Rosalie so much that they assured me she needed her own story. Last Child is that story, a prequel to Daniel's Walk.  

What you may not know about American history is that the diseases brought to North America by European settlers killed millions of Native Americans, who had little resistance to them. Smallpox was an especially big killer. In the epidemic of 1837-38 alone, smallpox swept through the northern great plains, taking the lives of at least 20,000 people with it. Many families and villages were totally wiped out, and some whole nations, like the Mandans, Arikaras, and Hidatsas, lost 95 percent of their population.

Last Child is a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of that epidemic. Last Child herself is a girl whose mother is Mandan and whose father is a white fur trader. As many mixed-race children do, she finds herself with divided loyalties, and feeling cast off by both sides of her family. Last Child has to fight her way through these feelings as she comes of age. And she has to survive both the epidemic and the designs of a dangerously weird bad guy.

She does so, but as we often discover, surviving isn’t all there is to growing up.