Book: Guests

Author: Michael Dorris

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion Books for Children, reissued 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0786820368 Hardcover

ISBN-10: 0786820365 Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0786813568 Paperback

ISBN-10: 0786813563 Paperback

Language level: 1

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 10 – 14

Rating: **** 4 stars

(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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Dorris, Michael.  Guests (Published in 1994 by Hyperion Books for Children, 114 Fifth Ave., New York City, NY  10011).  Moss is an immature young Algonquin Native American boy-man, still in that awkward stage between childhood and warrior status, who lives in a village in what is today Massachusetts with his father and mother and near his grandparents.  All his older siblings have died.  While his father is getting ready for some “Guests” at their autumn feast whose skin, clothing, language, and customs are completely alien to all he has experienced.  Moss breaks a wampum belt that has a story behind it and he must replace the broken story with a new one.  Why, as each group is wary of the other, do the Natives invite the interlopers to the harvest feast? Simple, as Moss’s father explains, “Because. They. Are. Hungry.”  The boy resents his family’s, and indeed the entire village’s, obligation to entertain guests and longs to embark on his own Away Time; i.e., a vision quest/rite of passage.   Frustrated by adult ways and his parents’ puzzling behavior, he enters the forest in search of meaning.

While there, he discovers an unusual girl named Trouble his same age from his village, who is also seeking solace from nature and respite from her own family, and a talking porcupine, each of whom teaches him different aspects about the outside world and thus helps to change him from a selfish little boy to a more sensitive young man.  Can the two lonely, misunderstood preteens find their respective ways back home?   How does Moss interpret and follow the advice from a matronly porcupine?  And what happens to Trouble?  Guests is a story about the struggle of a boy and girl with the problems of growing up during the time of the first Thanksgiving, but the feelings expressed are universal regardless of time or place.  Moss says, “Half the time people treat me as though I’m younger than I am and the other half they want me to be older.”

Despite the fact that this short tale does not have much action and adventure, it is remarkably well told, instantly capturing the reader’s interest, and Moss learns some important lessons that critical day of the unwanted guests, such as the importance of hospitality, the need for maturity of heart and mind, and the value of a caring family. Also, the grouchy old porcupine tells him, “You are who you are,” thus teaching him that he should be himself.  Hence, it is a beautifully written work with offerings of lovingly administered wisdom in small, easily palatable bits that children will love.  In addition, this multi-level book contains some Indian tales in between the events which are very interesting.

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