1932: Waterless Mountain


Sally’s Rating: 1/5

A coming-of-age tale, Laura Armer’s Waterless Mountain explores the culture, beliefs and myths of the Navaho Indians through the eyes of a young boy who desperately desires to become a medicine man.

Much of the book involves Younger Brother pondering the meaning of life and making spiritual discoveries. To the author’s credit, the book captured the tranquil spirit of the open wilderness through the narrator’s interactions with nature. Younger Brother spends much of his time outside, exploring the world and observing the wildlife. There is something truly beautiful about this tribe’s culture as depicted in Waterless Mountain, and the narrator’s innocence and wonder of the world around him reflects this sentiment.

Despite the beauty of the Navaho world, the narrator’s simple point of view negates the positive effect of the setting. The simplistic sentence structure makes for a slow and boring read. Take this passage on watching a man fail to start his car:

“Younger Brother watched every motion. He knew the Big Man was worried. He was not smiling. The little boy thought very hard. A friend should help a friend. The Big Man could not start his car. Like a flash the child remembered what Elder Brother had told him. ‘If a thing will not go, spit the juice of the juniper in its face.’” (p. 31)

The whole book follows this pattern. While this writing style may be a good strategy for teaching young children how to read, Waterless Mountain ends up reading like it’s a book for a much younger age bracket than what it is actually intended for.

Its biggest shortcoming is that the plot is nonexistent. The characters have no urgency, and the plot has no forward movement. The characters are at peace with themselves, and as a result, conflict is seemingly avoided, making for an uninteresting journey. While many young adult books about growing up can take their time developing the characters and go down long circuitous paths, Younger Brother’s adventures are not exciting enough to fill a whole book.

Waterless Mountain is a skippable book among the early Newbery Medal winners. A slow read, Waterless Mountain presents an interesting point of view of the Navaho Indians, but fails to deliver a compelling narrative.


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