Book Review: Spirit of the Rabbit Place (Choestoe Book 3) by J.R. Collins

The Choestoe Valley, known by the Cherokee as the “ ‘land where the rabbits dance,’ ” is paradise to fourteen-year-old Jebidiah Collins. When his grandfather settled in the valley after  immigrating from Ireland, he quickly learned the benefits of befriending the Native Americans living in the area, and the Collins now consider Dancing Bear, a Cherokee elder, and his family as relatives, sharing with and helping each other in good times and bad. Jeb’s father, Thompie, gives freely of his farm’s bounty to the Cherokee, who help work the land and teach Thompie and his children how to survive in this beautiful but deadly landscape. Cain, Jeb’s older brother, is even allowed to marry Rose, Dancing Bear’s daughter, and has become a full-fledged Cherokee warrior in his own right. Their bonds are so strong, Dancing Bear symbolically adopts Jeb, who is the same age as his own son, Wolf.  Jebidiah and Wolf become blood brothers, learning to be Cherokee warriors together and taking on any and every adventure that comes their way. They often find themselves in dangerous situations since the arrival of gold miners to their sacred valley. These unscrupulous men threaten their very way of life, and when these ruthless miners capture Wolf and force him into slavery, Jeb knows he may be his friend’s only chance at rescue. 

A poignant theme of this third novel in the Choestoe series is that of unity. Jeb’s family and nearly all of the settlers in the valley honor and respect the Cherokee who inhabited this area long before the settlers arrived. This beautiful, symbiotic-style relationship benefits both the settlers and the Native Americans. Jeb repeatedly praises the wisdom of trusting each other and working together. From plowing fields to hunting game, the Collins family and Dancing Bear’s clan work seamlessly, easily with each other. Under the age-old adage, “treat folks how you want to be treated,” Jeb understands that what he does, what he says will be returned to him tenfold, and though his mountain home is changing with the white man’s greed, he would never make an enemy of a people so much better equipped and knowledgeable than his own. His trust is implicit and unquestioning, and with that, comes the need to protect and love each other. Again and again, the idea of caring for and looking out for your family (both blood and chosen) prevails. In each episode Jeb describes, first and foremost is the idea of responsibility for each other. It is never an every-man-for-himself scenario. Their hearts beat as one; their minds think as one. When any neighbor needs help, neither the settlers nor their Cherokee brethren forsake those needs, chasing down murderous outlaws and helping free slaves. It isn’t just Jeb’s family who shows this amazing generosity of spirit, though. Throughout the valley, families return in kind the goodness shown to them. Mrs. England, for example, takes in orphaned children, even those with disabilities and special needs. Every family gives; every family receives. Each of them is willing to fight for and die for this place they’ve worked together to make a true home. The settlers not only want to fight for their way of life, but also for the ancient ways of their Cherokee neighbors, who are being treated more and more cruelly each day with the coming of gold seekers as well as the US government. This is the kind of community just about every person wishes could exist, and for the brief but precious time described in the novel, it does. 

Another prevalent idea is the value of spiritualism. The plot is an interesting mixture of Cherokee and Christian beliefs, with a deep respect for each. Jeb’s faith often brings him comfort and strength, and many times, the Cherokee turn to pray for direction and guidance on huge decisions. Jeb knows that the Holy Spirit has brought him and his family to the valley and continues to bless and guide them. Though he fears evil when he literally comes face-to-face with it, he knows the Great Creator protects him and finds solace in the idea that no evil can hurt someone who is protected by the Peace of Jesus. All of the Cherokee warriors repeatedly assure Jeb, whose Cherokee name is Spirit Filled One, that he should trust in and heed the voice of the Spirit that comes to him, and that very faith not only saves him and George Black Oak, Wolf’s blood uncle, but also shows them some much-needed information that ends an emotional struggle of another important character. This faith shines through in Jeb’s loving nature and brings light to all those around him.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

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