Darcy Munson Meijer has lived and taught in France, Vietnam, the U.S. and Gabon.  She currently teaches women at Zayed University in the capital city of the United Arab Emirates — Abu Dhabi. Darcy also edits the quarterly Friends of Gabon newsletter, the Gabon Letter. Here she reviews the young adult novel Stronghold by Terri McIntyre.

stronghold-140Stronghold
by Terri McIntyre (Pakistan 1963–65)
CreateSpace
October 2009
259 pages
$12.50

Reviewed by Darcy Munson Meijer (Gabon 1982–84)

Stronghold is a valuable addition to the book collection of any young adult — and to mine. Author Terri McIntyre provides a model of talented writing and plot development and gives readers food for thought, plus marvelous local color.

The story is set in Indiana and the beautiful high-desert lands of Arizona. Stronghold’s hero is 13-year-old Joe Aberdeen, who must relocate to his father’s house as a result of a family tragedy. As Joe heals, he makes a shocking discovery that forces him to make a difficult choice.

McIntyre’s novel unfolds in 26 short chapters. The focus is how Joe works through his grief and emerges into young adulthood. The dominant themes are loss, growing up, the continuation of the past in the present, and the clash of cultures.

The book is aptly titled after the fort Joe builds in his backyard — his “stronghold.” It is a fort like any adolescent escape place — created as a retreat from the world — but Joe unwittingly builds it on the ruins of an ancient First American community.

McIntyre notches up the suspense when Joe discovers that his neighbors are looting artifacts from the ruins under their property. There are laws against such activity, but it is difficult to prove that a crime has been committed. Joe and his family take action to stop the desecration.

At this point, McIntyre adds a spiritual layer from the ancient Anasazi community. As one of her characters says, “History has a way of staying in the present.” This most delicate part of the story gives a fascinating dimension to the plot. In the climax, past and present meet for a ceremony that puts all disruption to rest. In this appealing parallel, Joe helps to right the wrongs to the lost First American community as he heals from his own loss.

McIntyre says that a good book includes the following: a catchy beginning; new developments that hold your attention; realistic dialog; believable action; and a satisfying ending. I rate her a high five on all counts except the dialog, which earned a 3.5 in my humble opinion.

Young adults will love the compelling plot of Stronghold. Two of my children read the book almost as quickly as I did. In addition to quick-paced action, McIntyre weaves into her story facts about northern Arizona and First American history and culture. Her love for her home area is apparent in her clear descriptions of high-desert plants, animals, sounds, colors and scents. She creates suspense with the sporadic appearance of ravens. They may be curious onlookers, harbingers of evil, messengers from the past — or from the dead. We can only guess and wonder what these birds meant to the ancient occupants of this site.

Terri McIntyre seems to understand adolescent children well. Her portrayal of Joe is spot on and tender, and she gives him a new home life that is peaceful and healthy. He seemed real to me. I liked him immediately.

The only weak point for me was the dialog, especially the speech of Joe’s father. It is possible that the process of getting to know his son again, and the compassion he feels for him chokes his phrasing and makes him sound canned. All the characters spoke a little too carefully, as though from a book on proper sentence construction. When I first began reading, the dialogs jarred me out of the story. All in all, however, the plot or character development were not affected. The messages were crystal clear, if not wholly realistic.

I asked McIntyre what her inspiration was for writing Stronghold and how close the story was to her own life.

She has lived in Arizona for most of her adult life “on a juniper-strewn hillside overlooking a wide valley,” a place very similar to the book’s setting. McIntyre’s own two children grew up there and built forts among the junipers. They grew up with Navajo classmates and friends.

McIntyre said that in the mid-Nineties, extensive ruins were discovered in her town — “Red Ridge” in the story. She elaborates: “Because of the proximity to Indian land, Navajo Tribal laws required that each potential site be probed for possible antiquities before construction began. After many probes and excavations, it soon became evident that the whole area sits atop an ancient and once-thriving city.”

This became the core idea of the book. McIntyre then fashioned Joe’s personal story to flesh out the action.

Asked whether her Peace Corps experience influenced her writing, McIntyre explained that the Peace Corps influence was very strong. After Peace Corps, McIntyre longed to continue learning about other cultures, this time closer to home. “Arizona is a cradle of many cultures and I was drawn eventually to Navajo country. When I came to work with Indian kids, I knew I had neither the wisdom nor the ability, nor the RIGHT to set anyone but myself on a better track. The Peace Corps changed me in that way and I’m grateful for that. It helped to make me an observer and a learner, two essential traits for someone who wants to be a writer, and I knew at eight that I wanted to be a writer.”

She has worked for three decades with the Dine’ (dih-neh’, or The People).

“What I’ve learned from the Dine’ is too much to say in a few sentences, but it’s been as powerful an influence on me as the Peace Corps was. And I’m grateful.”

Stronghold closes with a useful glossary of technical archaeology terms and two pages of “Internet Resources for the Research-Minded.”

In brief, I highly recommend Stronghold not only for individual readers — adults and adolescents — but as a purchase for any school library.

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