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Girl with Skirt of Stars Paperback – August 1, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Like the river that drives much of its plot, this debut novel runs smooth and fast, with the occasional turbulent rapids and a few circling eddies. Lilli Chischilly is a lawyer for the Navajo Nation who finds herself at the center of several dramas-the murder of a Navajo elder, the return of her childhood love, and the collision of a presidential campaign with a reservation community. Chischilly embarks on a symbolic river trip with presidential candidate Lee, his family and handlers, and her old flame Jerome. Stacked with dramatic tension, including Chischilly's doubts over the candidate's intentions towards her people anda would-be assassin with a score to settle against Lee, Kitchell's narrative can be awkward in its transitions, reintroducing lost plotlines abruptly. Still, the whole of the novel is tied together well by the Navajo perspective, presented with a matter-of-factness and lightness of touch that make it hard to believe that Kitchell, a geologist, isn't a Navajo herself; for that alone, she proves herself a new talent worth watching.
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"A stunning mystery debut by a gifted story-teller! Girl with Skirt of Stars is a head-long plunge into a mystery intertwined with the mysteries of Navajo culture and rendered in language as gorgeous as the southwestern landscape. Look for Jennifer Kitchell on the bestseller lists!" --Margaret Coel, author of The Silent Spring
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Lilli Chischilly became a lawyer in order to protect her people-- the Navajo-- even to testifying before Congress about Colorado River water usage. Happily married, she is disconcerted when her childhood friend, Jerome Bah, moves back to the reservation and makes contact with her, but she's thrown even further off balance when the president of the Navajo Nation insists she joins Senator Lee and his family on a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon.
The Mormon presidential candidate whom many believe will be the next President of the United States has a reason why he wants Lilli along on the trip. One of his campaign promises is to use new technology to wring every last bit of water and power from Mother Nature. He also wants a legal guarantee to be granted to California for the water rights to the Colorado River. (Which means that-- no matter what happens-- California would get its water regardless of anyone else who needs it.)
Thinking Lilli will be a captive audience, Lee intends to make sure she agrees to this legal guarantee. What neither of them know is that Lee has an enemy who's determined to kill him somewhere along the river down in the depths of the Grand Canyon. Furthermore, the enemy's chances of success are excellent since there are only eleven people traveling on the raft.
Kitchell has a very lyrical writing style that has unexpected touches of humor, as when someone claims another character is "so narrow minded he could applaud with his ears."
The raft trip through the Grand Canyon is extremely suspenseful, since the reader knows there's a killer waiting for them somewhere along the route. A secondary plot line that involves Lilli's childhood friend, Jerome Bah, adds tension between Lilli and Jerome as well as serving as a natural springboard for sharing many Navajo customs and stories.
We could learn much from the Navajo. Tony Hillerman knew this, and Jennifer Kitchell, in her beautifully told story, is following in his footsteps.
"Life is brief, she thought, tenuous, but it has a point. We are here to create life, and to teach it, and to die old in beauty. 'Beauty' did not mean you walked to old age with no illness, or you walked to old age with cosmetically enhanced qualities of the young. It was not about physical attributes. It was about a quality of character."
May all of you walk in beauty.