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“But you’re only half white, Rosie girl,” my father said.
“And which half is that?” I demanded. “Right or left? Exactly where am I so different from you?”
Rosalie’s biggest problem used to be her own divided feelings. The constant tug-of-war between her white half and her Mandan half has always been difficult. She even has two names: Rosalie when she’s at the fort with her father and Last Child when she’s in the village with her mothers.
But now everything is falling apart. A steamboat captain has unleashed smallpox in Rosalie’s world. Though the white men at Fort Clark have resistance to the disease, the Mandans do not. Suddenly, the name Last Child becomes all too real.
Many readers of Daniel's Walk liked the character of Rosalie very much, and they assured me that she needed her own story. That's what I wrote in Last Child.
What you may not know about American history is that in 1837-38, small pox swept through the northern great plains, taking the lives of 20,000 people with it. Many families and villages were totally wiped out, and some whole nations, like the Mandans and Hidatsas, lost 95 percent or more of their population.
So Last Child is a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of that epidemic. Last Child herself is a girl whose mother is Mandan and whose father is a white fur trader. As many mixed-race children do, she finds herself with divided loyalties, and feeling cast off by both sides of her family. Last Child has to fight her way through these feelings as she comes of age. And she has to survive both the epidemic and the designs of a dangerously weird bad guy.
She does so, but as we often discover, surviving isn’t all there is to growing up.