“I don’t remember my mother,” I told Quetit.
“You must remember something,” Quetit said.
I closed my eyes and with all my aching heart I tried. I saw a dark mist and two oxen pulling a wagon away from me. That was all. And suddenly, I felt so terribly alone, with nothing to fill the years behind me and nothing to look forward to.
(from I Am Regina, page 153)
I Am Regina is a young adult novel set during the French and Indian War. It is based on the true story of Regina Leininger, who was kidnapped by Indians in 1755 at the age of 11 and held captive for nearly a decade. She and her sister, Barbara, witness the murders of their father and older brother, and the pair become the spoils of war. Separated from her sister, Regina and a little girl she names Sarah are suddenly the property of Tiger Claw, who takes them back to his village and his bitter mother Wolefin.
Regina and Sarah are assimilated into the tribe. Regina is given the name Tskinnak, or the blackbird, and Sarah becomes Quetit, or little girl. They are not allowed to use the language of the white man and must learn the Indian ways — from farming to scavenging for food when Tiger Claw leaves for weeks and rarely brings home the promised food and supplies.
Regina’s memories of the song her mother always sang to her, her faith, and her new friendship with Nonschetto, who becomes like a mother to her, keep her alive, but as the years pass, she loses her language, the memories of her old life, her name, and her identity. Her new life is fraught with hardship — from her tumultuous relationship with Tiger Claw to the war and disease that take their toll on the village. Even as Regina becomes part of the tribe, she hangs onto the hope that she and Sarah will one day be rescued.
I didn’t know what to expect from I Am Regina, but I know I didn’t expect to become so absorbed in the story. Keehn is not afraid to focus on the darker aspects of Regina’s time in captivity, which really makes the story come alive and feel authentic. Telling the story in the first person from Regina’s perspective gives it a sense of immediacy and helps readers imagine themselves in Regina’s shoes. Most importantly, Keehn enables readers to see the good and evil on both sides — to see the humanity in Regina’s captors and feel compassion for them.
The only thing that kept me from loving this book was the ending, which seemed too rushed and abrupt and kept readers from coming full circle with Regina. Although there is an afterword that aims to wrap things up and shed light on the real-life events that inspired the story, it just wasn’t satisfying, given that the entire narrative up until that point had so fully grabbed my attention.
Still, I Am Regina exceeded my expectations. I can’t remember ever having read a novel set during the French and Indian War, so it really piqued my interest in that period. I think it would be a great novel to cover in school, with engaging, well-developed characters, a real-life heroine, and plenty of topics to discuss. In fact, check out the readalong chats that Serena and I posted on War Through the Generations here and here (beware of spoilers).
Disclosure: I borrowed I Am Regina from my local library.
© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.