I started Panther across the sky by Lon Brett Coon with pretty high hopes. The story itself is pretty well written and there is a lot going for it. There were also a few things that didn’t work for me, too. To begin with, I’ll focus on some of the positives. Ever since graduating college nearly two decades ago I’ve worked with teens and nearly always worked with/near Native American youth. The opening scene with Makya felt very believable (kind of, more below) as he raged and acted out the anger welling up within him. Basically, he goes out and gets drunk with some total strangers who tell him a tale (the central story of the book) which makes the novel 1 part Everyman story, 1 part morality tale, and 1 part Native American Princess Bride… which is cool, but can rub many people the wrong way unless the story is well-wrapped in genre fiction (within religious tales and morality stories, however, the story-in-a-story motif can be common.)
The opening scene features some great skill by Coon in demonstrating intense language that demonstrates emotion and action. However, some of the details don’t make sense. Coon beautifully shows Makya’s poverty by referencing an older model television and clothing with holes… but then his mother Nengala comes and gives him a hug because her angry son was so upset that he busted the tv, mirror, and anything glass. Her actions defy the beautiful scene Coon setup—the proximity to our modern culture are what make some of those scenes unbelievable: it’s easier to lose the suspension of disbelief when we are already affluent with the culture. To be fair, when Coon writes the rest of the story—the historical fiction story of Tecumseh—the writing is much more on point. It’s easier to stay in the story and maintain the disbelief that the author asks us to buy into.
The reemergence of Makya at the end feels heavy handed, like the author finally shows his cards and tells us his message in explicit detail and so it didn’t work for me… an angry boy speaking words as if they were pulled from a Wikipedia post in preparation for a high school history exam felt more farfetched than that same boy being thrown back in time a few hundred years to experience a moral lesson from his people’s history. It kind of ruined the story in my opinion. Truly, my only problems were with the characters and scenes in the prologue and epilogue—which are basically disconnected to the rest of the story (except that it connects the moral lesson to a modern age).
The story is a solid tale—just don’t read the prologue or epilogue unless you want to feel talked down to and led towards the exact conclusions the author wants you to arrive at. This is Coon’s first story and it is a fine tale and otherwise well done; I’ve no doubt that he will learn a few things as he continues to write and that his next book just may be a perfect read.
I got a copy of the book for free in exchange for an honest review. You can get a copy of it right here.