Bruchac, Joseph. 2004. The Dark Pond. Ill. by Sally Wern Comport. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0060529954.
B. Plot Summary\
Armin Katchatorian, a young teen who is half Shawnee, half Armenian, transfers to North Mountains School. Once there he immediately senses an evil presence calling to him, pulling him to a dark pond. Armie relies on the tales of his Shawnee ancestors to help him discover what lurks beneath the still dark waters and to eliminate the evil for good.
C. Critical Analysis
Joseph Bruchac admits that The Dark Pond was inspired by traditional tales told by the Senecas, Shawnees, and other North-Eastern American Indian nations. However, this story simply hints that American Indians tell stories of creatures hiding underwater and does not say The Dark Pond is a retelling of an actual tale. Therefore, while the main character Armie reveals his Shawnee heritage, the story does not try to be linked to any particular American Indian group.
Since The Dark Pond is set in modern times, the only cultural markers used in the narrative are skin color, hair, and the use of American Indian names. Customs are not observed, nor are any religious beliefs, save the one argument regarding the length of Armie's hair presented each time he enrolls in school. Armie's mother is a lawyer who also cites the Native American Freedom of Religion Act and writes a letter to the school stating, "My son is Shawnee. It is part of our tradition that a young man be allowed to grow his hair long...It is a sacred thing. Regardless of your school policies, you cannot require him to cut his hair."
One reference to American Indian beliefs is mentioned when Armie and Mitch exchange names. Mitch uses his Indian name of Sabattis and Arnie reflect that "A name is a powerful thing. Giving someone your name means that you trust them with something precious to you."
Illustrations are few and do not try to portray any American Indian lives or customs. Drawings are black and white and only serve to highlight a few points in the story and the beginnings of each chapter.
The Dark Pond reads well and quickly and would appeal to younger teen boys with the adventurous activities Armie goes through to solve the mystery of The Dark Pond.
D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal –With its almost unbearably creepy prologue, Bruchac's contemporary novel combining Native American lore and horror will immediately grab readers. Armin Katchatorian, part Shawnee, part Armenian, narrates this tale set at the North Mountains School. He is such a loner that his best communications are with animals, who are naturally drawn to this young man who "feels" things. Armie becomes aware that an ominous pond off established hiking trails is trying to draw him near to it via nightmarish visions and an actual physical pull. After being rescued from entering it by a fox, he notices that although many animal tracks lead into the pond, none return. With an economy of words, Bruchac conveys an atmosphere of increasing tension and fear of this unknown evil. Armie discovers that both the Iroquois and Abenakis spoke often about underwater monsters, and meets Mitch Sabattis, who is working at the school. Recognizing a fellow shaman, the young man warns Armie to stay away from the pond. The novel loses a little steam when the conflict between Mitch's scientific approach meets Armie's more visceral one, but ultimately the two discover just what type of horror lives in the pond. Effectively illustrated by Comport, this eerie story skillfully entwines Native American lore, suspense, and the realization that people and things are not always what they seem to be on the surface, all through the perspective of a resourceful yet insecure young man who learns to value his talents. A perfect choice for reluctant readers.
Booklist As he did in The Skeleton Man (2001), Bruchac transfers the elements of an Indian legend to a modern setting. Armie Katchatorian attends a private boarding school. Partly because of his half-Indian ancestry, he feels alienated from his fellow students. Fortunately, he is able to escape to the woods, where he comes across a mysterious dark pond, which he senses hides something sinister and dangerous. With the help of an Indian named Mitch, Armie discovers the secret of the pond--a giant carnivorous creature from which Armie must rescue Mitch and himself. Bruchac slowly builds the suspense and provides a genuinely creepy tale, told by a winning central character.
Encourage students to research for other tales of underwater creatures shared by American Indian tribes.