Summary of Motherless by Gabriel Horn (White Deer of Autumn)

…The faculty seated in their swivel chairs, and in their sympathetic civility, could not hear the terror in primal voices on that blazing dark night in the Gulf. They could not hear the honking of great herons and egrets, the squealing of the gulls, the terrified panic of pelicans flapping wings too heavy with oil to fly. They could not hear the turtles in their screaming silence burning in water that was on fire. They could not hear in that horror of flaming darkness, the warnings of the other rescuers and the crew for her not to dive in; “Rainy!” they cried.”                           

Born in a downpour that breaks a record drought, she is named Rainy, and Motherlesstells the contemporary story of this racially and tribally diverse Indigenous American who begins an heroic journey of profound self-awareness and discovery that spans from the time of her birth to the moment she stands ready to receive her doctoral degrees. Faced with the violent deaths of her parents at five and a half years old, she is adopted by her grandfather, Walter Peek, also of tribally and racially diverse lineage, and a man dealing with the onslaught of old age and the burdens of regret and loss of purpose – until now, rediscovering his life’s meaning with the rescues of the wounded wolf he names Koda, and his suddenly orphaned young granddaughter, Rainy.  Together, this unusual family bond renews Grandpa’s home in one of the last of the small, but soon-to-be developed beach communities along Florida’s Gulf coast, a community revealing a microcosm of diverse human experiences and world views, as well as the human impact of an endangered and fragile environment. The story also offers a look into the lives of Indigenous people separated from the reservation system.

Written in nonlinear time, and with a feather’s brushing of magical realism, Motherless weaves the events of Rainy Peek’s life, from the ecocide of the natural world, to the verbal assault of an older bully student who claims she is “not a real Indian,” and to the omission of her People’s history and her often intense confrontations in Mr. Kline’s(aka: the Colonel’s) sixth grade history class, she faces questions of loss and identity, and the very essence of the human spirit. They are questions that hours spent in classrooms, and even her grandfather’s ancient wisdom, cannot answer. As the accumulation of disillusionment leaves her exasperated,Rainy lies in bed. Why are people so cruel? Why don’t I have a mother? While a storm begins to rage inside of her, it ultimately releases her own spirit to the storm raging outside, and lifts her out-of-body, and into a dream that is more than a dream The next morning, on Grandpa’s self-proclaimed Indigenous holiday, he encourages her to seek the answers to the questions. When she arrives on the beach with Koda at her side, the dream’s silver dolphinappears to greet her as an escort, and Rainy  

Peek steps into her vision. She slides onto the dream’s shipwrecked door, and with Koda
watching from the shore, she begins paddling to a sacred island where pristine beauty will become sudden repulsion and the possible ending of the world. It is there upon the blackened and stained sand, that she encounters a Mother Turtle with a burning shell, and then she discovers the mythical being, Ah-nuh, a shape shifter, and aging time traveler, who reveals to her a haunting and healing truth of what it means to be a human being, and that only those who have in their hearts and minds disconnected themselves from the Earth will ever truly feel what it means to be Motherless.                            

…She held open her hands, and suspended just above them, appeared an image about the size of a Mayan ball, a holograph of some mysterious nature, of the slowly spinning Earth. In the unexpected, when minds had crossed boundaries for the committee of esteemed teachers who were seeing in that instant – magic, when thought and words manifest and imagination transcends realities, Rainy Peek took on a beauty that could only emanate from the wisdom of which she spoke, and from the image suspended before her.          “The Earth is alive,” she said, her eyes glowing in the blue spectral world formed from her imagination into the aura of her opened hands, embracing the image like holding mist. “The Earth is our Mother,” ….     

Read our Q&A with Motherless author Gabriel Horn (White Deer of Autumn) here.