In explaining what I take to be the problems of Becky Dice's Chenoa's Spiritual Journey, I must note that problems need more clarification than strong points do. So this section is usually going to be longer than the section on the strengths.
1. Culture. I don't believe there's a completely good or evil culture, so one of the jobs we have (especially missionaries) is to identify what's good and bad, nurturing the good and uprooting the bad. For example, in general American culture there's a glorification of personal liberty at the expense of personal responsibility and interpersonal relationships. We also idolize sports and entertainment figures. We respect life by having handicapped parking spaces, but we support abortion.
There is no monolithic Indian culture. The various tribes and nations differ dramatically from one another. However, in general Indian culture emphasizes respect for the elderly and for tradition (good points), strongly believes in a spiritual world (neutral), and accepts or even encourages magical and necromantic activity forbidden by Scripture (bad). (In case you wonder, I grew up in Alaska, where this problem is a big deal: Natives there always have to choose between their traditional spirituality and biblical ways, and I've seen the choice and its consequences played out many times.)
The business about the Great Spirit bothered me because I'm always uncomfortable when someone talks a lot about God but not about Jesus. There is a definite difference between Chenoa's parents and her grandparents: the parents are evidently Christians, while the grandparents give no such impression. The grandparents' belief is like that of people who talk about The Man Upstairs: they believe in a God, but the connection with the biblical God is unclear at best. Yet it is the grandparents who define the spiritual landscape.
So we have a dream in which Chenoa's deceased mother, in spirit form, enters Chenoa. No. Mom is with Jesus, not tucked away inside Chenoa. I'd suggest an exorcism myself, because it's a safe assumption that something other than the mother was trying for entrance. In fact, the whole matter of the parents' death, besides its predictability, points in a New Age or occult direction. It's the major sticking point I have with what is otherwise a good story.
A closely related matter is the uncritical acceptance of all things Indian, which is as reckless as an uncritical acceptance of all things American (Jewish, Black, Chinese, etc.). I got the impression that "practicing" Indians such as the grandparents were saved by their culture, which is every bit as silly as saying that someone is Christian because he is an American.
2. Morality. Dakotah, the Indian boy Chenoa's interested in, is way over the line both physically and spiritually in his "romantic" actions toward Chenoa. He puts serious moves on her when she is unavailable because she isn't saved, and no, being in love doesn't excuse it. We already have kids who are pushing the line; they need examples of peers who have better control and more respect for the one they supposedly love. They also need examples of people who refuse to pursue even an attractive unsaved person, which in the real world ends badly just under 100% of the time.
Dare to be counter-cultural on romance!
3. Race. The preoccupation with race annoyed me, though it fits with the emphasis on Indian Culture (whatever that may be) being invariably right. Chenoa is strongly bigoted, and even Dakotah's sister Marie has to observe that her own crush is the best-looking White boy in school.
Now, I know that racism exists, and perhaps all this leads up to a point where Chenoa and the others confront their bigotry. But it's unpleasant in the meantime.
Conclusion. So am I opposed to the book? No. I just think a different target audience would be better. Instead of young adults, I would pitch this toward those who want to understand the "Reservation mindset." That would include anyone wanting to work with or simply understand what could be called "practicing Indians," as distinct from those who have assimilated and simply consider themselves Americans. As such, this would be a good read for adults and even (with supervision) older teens. For that matter, as racism is universal, it would be good for understanding that aspect of fallen human nature, regardless of the specific race.
Such stories can be very useful. As a "cradle Christian," I have little understanding of those who grew up outside God's grace. It revolutionized my life years ago to see, of all things, the Beatles film Yellow Submarine on TV because it (especially through the song "Eleanor Rigby") gave me a good look at life without God. Chenoa's Spiritual Journey could have the same impact for someone else.
Some other blogs on the CFRB tour:
Cathi Hassan's at Shoutlife
Queen of Convolution (Caprice Hokstad)
1 year ago