Recently I had the chance to work on a very fun project for a very talented Oklahoma author. It involved a book about old timey girls, a spooky mammoth school, ghosts, and the Cherokee Nation. What could be better, right?
Just before Halloween I worked on a portrait of the main character of the novel “The Revenant”
on the request of the author, Sonia Gensler
. I was lucky enough to get to read the book before I started on the piece and it is so
good. The story begins when the rash and adventurous Willie runs away from boarding school in Tennessee when her mother calls her home to help take care of her growing brood before she can graduate.
Determined that she wont forgo her education and independence to stay at home slaving for her mother’s children with her new step father, Willie instead steals her flighty room mate’s teaching license and letter accepting her to teach at a Cherokee girls’ seminary in Tahlequah, Indian Territory and promptly hops a train for a grand adventure.
This adventurous premise would be enough to catch one’s attention, but what Willie finds in Tahlequah once she arrives brings the story to new heights. Her vision of a rustic native school are dashed once she sees the towering castle of a seminary where Cherokee young women are given an elite education under the steely eye of the headmistress and staff of teachers.
Willie must now assume the role of poised English teacher to students who are the same age as she, and navigate the complicated world of educating girls in a culture and class very different from her own. I love how Sonia explores the social and personal impact of education on these girls who are in a unique situation of either being immensely wealthy and privilaged, or struggling to reconcile their new education and experience with families that are still very grounded in their traditional ways. This is not your stereotypical book about ‘Indian Girls’ and as an Oklahoman I can really appreciated that.
But…of course….that isn’t even all!
In addition to her new role as teacher under a name that isn’t even her own, Willie soon learns that some dreadful events have occurred at the school prior to her arrival, which ended in a student’s death. Soon some strange and paranormal events start happening, both to the students who have the weight of secret guilt on their conscience, and to Willie who happens to be housed in the deceased girl’s room.
I’ll stop here so I don’t give anything away, but I’ll just say that the events that unfold are deliciously spooky, wonderfully detailed, and of course there’s a little romance in there as well 🙂 there are so many levels of tension in the novel— will the students and faculty learn her secret and that she’s not who she says she is? What happened to the young woman who perished so tragically, and is she haunting and tormenting her former friends? The ending will shock and surprise you, but until you get there you will love following this spooky adventure on each and every page.
Having enjoyed the book so much, it was my pleasure to get a chance to paint my vision of Willie for her creator, and try my hand at the looming seminary that is still located in Tahlequah, Oklahoma
— capital of the Cherokee Nation. Some day I need to hop in the car and go down there and see the place myself! On her blog, Sonia recently posted about her visit to the old seminary building for a ghost tour. How fun is that!?
If you’d like to delve into this book yourself, it is available at Amazon.com
or local book stores. You can find out more about Sonia Gensler on her website
and read her fun blog HERE
Hope you like the painting! And thanks so much to Sonia for the adventure of creating Willie!~