Nineteen-year-old Cowney Sequoyah yearns to escape his hometown of Cherokee, North Carolina, in the heart of the Smoky Mountains. When a summer job at Asheville's luxurious Grove Park Inn and Resort brings him one step closer to escaping the hills that both cradle and suffocate him, he sees it as an opportunity. The experience introduces him to the beautiful and enigmatic Essie Stamper—a young Cherokee woman who is also working at the inn and dreaming of a better life.
With World War II raging in Europe, the resort is the temporary home of Axis diplomats and their families, who are being held as prisoners of war. A secret room becomes a place where Cowney and Essie can escape the white world of the inn and imagine their futures free of the shadows of their families' pasts. Outside of this refuge, however, racism and prejudice are never far behind, and when the daughter of one of the residents goes missing, Cowney finds himself accused of abduction and murder.
Even As We Breathe invokes the elements of bone, blood, and flesh as Cowney navigates difficult social, cultural, and ethnic divides. Betrayed by the friends he trusted, he begins to unearth deeper mysteries as he works to prove his innocence and clear his name. This richly written debut novel explores the immutable nature of the human spirit and the idea that physical existence, with all its strife and injustice, will not be humanity's lasting legacy.
Clapsaddle's lush debut thrusts 19-year-old Cowney Sequoyah into WWII intrigue. In 1942, Cowney leaves his home on the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina for a groundskeeping job at Asheville's Grove Park Inn and Resort, which is being used by the government to intern enemy diplomats and their families. On the grounds, he uncovers a mysterious, human-looking bone, which he shows only to fellow Cherokee Essie Stomper, whom he falls for. Essie doesn't share Cowney's feelings, however, and embarks on a forbidden affair with Andrea, an Italian "guest." Meanwhile, Cowney keeps quiet with his family about his doubts over the sketchy details shared with him about his father's death by the Germans following Armistice Day. After a diplomat's young child goes missing, and Essie, sure Cowney told their boss about her relationship with Andrea, tells the soldiers guarding the resort about the bone Cowney has been holding onto. A colonel confiscates the bone, which he takes to be a sign of Cowney's evil nature and casts him under suspicion ("I know you people do all kinds of godforsaken things"). The clear, crisp prose hums consistently as the intricate story easily moves along and new details about Cowney's family's past emerge. Both an astonishing addition to WWII and Native American literature, this novel sings on every level.