Cold Morning Shadow

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Here is something for a change of pace — a paired-novel series:  Cold Morning Shadow – Lucky Diamond and Cold Morning Shadow – Half-soul in Tatters

Together they describe a captivating deaf girl who warmly and humorously stitches two families together.  This two-book story arc is a literate, upmarket family saga and a celebration of language, friendship, love, and hope.

Lucky Diamond (or Lucky Diamond and This Guy) introduces Cyleine, secretly daring, agonizingly sentimental, and a high school junior in rural South Dakota.  She and her brother Lionel, a senior, are off-reservation Oglala Lakota Sioux.

On the first day of English class in 1967 Cyleine meets a new girl.  Uprooted from urban Virginia, Garnette, a stiffly-coifed bottle-blonde with the awkward grace of a giraffe, was born deaf but is served by the latest in fashion hearing aids.  Obliviously alluring, her heedlessly unfiltered utterances, at best comical, at worst embarrassing, melt barriers and hearts.  Garnette’s brother, Wilton, a senior and a cross-country runner, is a self-conscious, regrettably cautious egghead who can draw caricatures and has studied a little Chinese.

Cyleine’s brother Lionel, outwardly forbidding but privately gentle, plans to take over the family’s farm equipment repair business.  He avoids newcomer Wilton at first but becomes intrigued by Cyleine’s new friend, Garnette.  The boys soon make peace but their first social encounter ends in a disaster that splits the two families.

Cyleine organizes her thoughts, her family, her horses, and her friends and prefers the company of her own mind.  She finds in Garnette, though, the best friend she needs but never expected.

With parents who couldn’t or wouldn’t, Wilton was first to discern Garnette’s hearing deficit when he and she were very young and has spent most of his eighteen years raising her himself, teaching her to speak and later to use the written word.  They rapidly adapt to their new rural setting and shed their urban ways.  During the summer after high school Lionel prepares to spend a year away at a technical school but finds himself rearranging his loner-centered future because he has fallen hard for Garnette.

Over the year since they first met, love’s soft net also closes around Wilton and Cyleine, but their hesitation imperils the delicate strands that would bind them.

Half-soul in Tatters follows Cyleine’s descent into angst and self-reproach beginning when she is a high school senior and when Wilton’s Army enlistment has taken him to Vietnam.  Once the girls graduate, Garnette marries Lionel and works part-time in the family business while attending the local college alongside Cyleine.  Wilton and Cyleine, yearning for each other from afar, finally overcome their reticence but perhaps too late.  Cyleine writes bawdy letters and heartfelt poems to him until he becomes an unusual kind of P.O.W. — in China, where he endears himself to co-workers in a radio factory and to audiences of exhibition wrestling but does not please the Communist Party.

He succeeds in sending his own self-portrait out of China on a set of radio instructions that, owing to his job in the factory, he has translated to English.  Chinese radios can’t be imported into the U.S., but his caricature reaches Cyleine through a catalog.  Détente is on the horizon and with help from Mister Turnbull, or Turn-bullet, their former English teacher and decorated World War II hero, Garnette and Cyleine succeed in meeting with General Westmoreland and, unexpectedly, Henry Kissinger, to appeal for Wilton’s return.  Garnette, to no one’s surprise, becomes penpals with President Nixon.

The Lakota teens, with trusting, loving parents, are inured to the indifference of their nation’s conquerors — the post-Europeans, as Lionel calls them.  But Turn-bullet, a fellow Lakota, urges them to take command of the English language, and the four friends enthusiastically do so in word lists, ciphers, verse, and in Garnette’s poignant struggle to hear.

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