The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band by Frances Washburn

A slim, evocative, entertaining tale of strange happenings on an Indian reservation in South Dakota.

red bird

Sissy Roberts is the girl everyone tells their problems to, whether she likes it or not. But, as she tells the reader on the opening page of Frances Washburn’s The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band, “no one so far has confessed to me that they killed Buffalo Ames at the Scenic Fourth of July Rodeo.” The novel, despite being framed around Buffalo’s murder and the subsequent FBI investigation (which mostly consists of bothering Sissy for answers), is entirely Sissy’s story.

Though the FBI man sent to her corner of the reservation doesn’t believe in her ignorance, Sissy really doesn’t know who killed Buffalo that night–and she doesn’t know what she’s going to do to get out of this town and off the rez. Her interest in solving the murder is half-hearted; she is more concerned with solving the mystery of her own future and ducking lackluster marriage proposals from the shallow pool of men on the rez. But the two will prove to be interconnected.

The strengths of this slim, quirky novel are Sissy’s strange mix of tenderness and sass, and Washburn’s grasp of the rez and its sense of inertia. For all the frustration that Sissy and the other diverse, well-wrought characters experience, however, the final result is moderately uplifting, like the music Sissy delights in throughout.


This review originally ran in the March 7, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 8 beers.

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