Even as We Breathe
Debut author Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle's Even as We Breathe is a coming-of-age novel about Cowney Sequoyah, a young man whose desire to leave the Cherokee reservation in Cherokee, N.C., is granted when he is offered a job at the Grove Park Inn and Resort in Asheville. With World War II raging, the resort has been converted into a gilded cage for Axis diplomats--a fascinating historical episode that Clapsaddle brings to light. While Cowney finds his horizons expanded and perhaps even a chance at love, he is trailed by bigotry that becomes impossible to shrug off when he's accused of a terrible crime.
Clapsaddle establishes an enthralling sense of place that takes readers from the luxury of the resort to the wildfire-prone forests of rural North Carolina. The town of Cherokee brims with fascinating, eccentric characters, like Tsa Tsi and his monkey, Edgar, who seem as tied to the setting as "mud-chinked log cabins burrowed into mountain hollers." Cowney is caught at a crossroads between the sometimes comforting, sometimes suffocating pull of home and an uncertain future in a country that granted citizenship to Native Americans only a few decades prior. Cowney's bitter uncle Bud proves prophetic when he warns Cowney to watch his step in the resort/prisoner-of-war camp "or they're liable to lock you up with 'em. You probably look more like a foreigner than a soldier." Even as We Breathe stands out for its portrayal of what it's like to try to find a place for yourself in a country that doesn't want you. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine