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When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky Summary and Reviews

When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky

by Margaret Verble

When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky by Margaret Verble X
When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky by Margaret Verble
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  • Published Oct 2022
    384 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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Book Summary

Louise Erdrich meets Karen Russell in this deliciously strange and daringly original novel from Pulitzer Prize finalist Margaret Verble: set in 1926 Nashville, it follows a death-defying young Cherokee horse-diver who, with her companions from the Glendale Park Zoo, must get to the bottom of a mystery that spans centuries.

Two Feathers, a young Cherokee horse-diver on loan to Glendale Park Zoo from a Wild West show, is determined to find her own way in the world. Two's closest friend at Glendale is Hank Crawford, who loves horses almost as much as she does. He is part of a high-achieving, land-owning Black family. Neither Two nor Hank fit easily into the highly segregated society of 1920s Nashville.

When disaster strikes during one of Two's shows, strange things start to happen at the park. Vestiges of the ancient past begin to surface, apparitions appear, and then the hippo falls mysteriously ill. At the same time, Two dodges her unsettling, lurking admirer and bonds with Clive, Glendale's zookeeper and a World War I veteran, who is haunted—literally—by horrific memories of war. To get to the bottom of it, an eclectic cast of park performers, employees, and even the wealthy stakeholders must come together, making When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky an unforgettable and irresistible tale of exotic animals, lingering spirits, and unexpected friendship.

First published Oct 2011; paperback reprint Oct 2022.

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Why do you think the author made the decision to begin the story of Two Feathers and the Glendale Park and Zoo with "When It Was"? What does this introduction reveal about the story's setting and historical context? What major themes and motifs of the novel does this preface introduce? How do you think your view of the book would have been different if the author had not included it?
  2. How is Two treated in comparison to the other women at Glendale? Why didn't Helen Hampton "feel like she could get as familiar with Two as she could with the other residents" (10)? How does Two cope with this? After she is injured, why doesn't Two want her parents to have to travel on the train to get to her? Although Two acknowledges that she is ...

You can see the full discussion here. This discussion will contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky:

After Two Feathers is forced to become more sedentary, how does her outlook change? What impact does this have on her relationships and how does it reshape her view of death?
Reene, that was also my favorite passage in the book. A beautiful description, realization, and connection with her kin. I found it inspirational. - Jessica F

Discuss how the book creates a dialogue about racism and segregation in America.
Ms Verble creates a great dialogue about racism and segregation by placing all these characters of different races and belief in on small area of the park. They are probably seeing each other and getting a sense of each other by living and ... - reene

Discuss the conclusion of the book. Who was ultimately responsible for the death of the animals at Glendale and what becomes of them?
I agree with everyone above. They couldn't go to the police with the murder. Two Feathers would have been accused, and the park would have received terrible press. No one would have ever accepted that a "spirit" killed a man! - Jessica F

Do you think Jack Older killed the animals as revenge for the park firing him or as a way to hurt Two Feathers?
Jack Older is a creepy character. He killed animals because he was fired and to hurt Two because he thought she rejected him. Glad the ghost took care of him before he could physically harm Two. - julianna

How did you feel about the development of each of the characters?
I thought the author did a great job with character development. We got great descriptions and back stories for the main characters (Two Feathers, Clive, Little Elk, and Crawford). The lesser involved characters were painted in just ... - Jessica F

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Media Reviews

"Verble beautifully weaves period details with the cast's histories, and enthralls with the supernatural elements, which are made as real for the reader as they are for the characters. This lands perfectly." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"This utterly memorable, beautifully written story will linger with readers." - Booklist (starred review)

"An ambitious novel that's impressive in its scope and concept: Glendale Park Zoo and the 101 are rife with narrative possibility and give the author a chance to examine a fascinating cross section of race and class." - Kirkus Reviews

"From race relations to social class to working conditions, Verble addresses key issues while spinning her ghost story around the fictionalized employees of a park that actually existed. Readers of general fiction will enjoy." - Library Journal

"Two Feathers, tough and warmhearted, clear-eyed and funny, captivates from the first striking scene. Margaret Verble has created a remarkable world, rich with vibrant characters and layered histories, long obscured, that emerge to shape their lives in surprising, thought-provoking, and moving ways." - Kim Edwards, bestselling author of The Memory Keeper's Daughter and The Lake of Dreams

"Two Feathers Fell from the Sky is a rich and lively novel, steeped in place and history. Verble's meticulous research and generosity of spirit shine through, lending her characters and their adventures a fullness that lingers." - Kelli Jo Ford, author of Crooked Hallelujah and winner of the Plimpton Prize

This information about When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own reviewwrite your own review

Margaret Simmons

You. have never read anything like it!
If leaping into a pool on horseback is what you do then when you can't do it your job possibilities are less shining than you might like. But "....had never been inactive in her life...Forced into it she recognized that the world inside her and the world unseen were every bit as engaging..."Two Feathers is the very smart young woman who observes and takes active part in the world around her. Who would kill a Hippo? This world includes animals , alive and dead, countless people of every hue, alive and dead, all yearning to be seen. And seen they are in this very intense, often very funny, historical novel. Tennessee in the 20's must have been a transitional marker in American society. How racial dynamics affect people just trying to get by and get back on the horse is reflected in the exquisite detail written. I want to see Harmonica in his dog cart. He is one of many vivid people who just passes through. And is seen.
Just the many means of locomotion are worth discovering in this perfectly wonderful book. And the people! And the Animals. And the Dead. And especially Two Feathers!


After the initial "set the stage" introduction (which was very interesting), Two Feathers seemed a little slow to start, but once I got past the chapters Margaret Verble needed for the backstory, I couldn't put it down. I'm off to find her earlier books.

Susan Gay-Peterson

A Mystery, a Ghost Story, a Civics & History Lesson
What a good story! You can read this and just enjoy a well-told story that is nicely paced, has humor, mystery, and a ghost or two. Or, you can pause and consider the sensibility and perception of events past, present and future through the various characters you will meet in the story. There is much to think about as you read: from the history of the settling of American and the natural history, and multilayered cultural perspectives. There’s the history of early Tennessee and the European pioneers who ultimately created dynasties in that state. Then, there is the complex story of the relationships of the Black slave descendants who came with the pioneers and who in 1925 can claim a distinguished antebellum ancestry which they share with the white pioneers. There’s the story of the Cherokee who were run out of Tennessee during the Trail of Tears relocation/displacement to Oklahoma.
The main character is a Cherokee woman named Two Feathers (Two) set in 1925 Dayton, Tennessee. Two is the courageous and very popular entertainer at the local amusement park who dives from a platform into a pond while on her horse. She's disciplined, athletic, independent, brave, practical and stands with one foot in the future and the other in her tribal past. We learn a lot about Two’s character through her relationships with her few friends and with the animals on display in the zoo as well as with how she handles a serious on-the-job injury. We’re reminded that WWI has just ended and the terrible costs of that war through the British character Clive, Park Manager, who suffers from PTSD. We also learn about the black experience in the south through Crawford, the Park mechanic, all-around jobber, member of a largest landowning Black in the state, and Two’s best friend. The place of women is reflected in the stories of Two’s career, the women entertainers, the young, widowed owner of the boarding house and the cameos by other women in this book. America stands on the cusp of change in 1926 as the war to end all wars has ended, cars are a new way to travel, science is making advances as evidenced by the Scopes Trial underway in town, and women are looking for social changes in voting rights and other feminists’ pursuits, Indians have been recognized as citizens of the USA for only one year and black citizens are not fully equal.
There is a mystery to solve and retribution to be had; there’s a spiritual element that floats through the story. There are also subtle reminders of serious tribal issues for present-day Native Americans in references to the uses and abuses of sacred grounds, disposition of land, and blood quantum concerns among the tribes as Two moves through the story and often thinks back to her grounding by the tribal elders.


Enthralling Story, Great Characters
Two Feathers is a young Cherokee horse rider who is at the center of the story. The setting is the 1920s at the Glendale Park Zoo. Verble’s skillful depiction of the Park Zoo creates a mesmerizing backdrop on which to parade her characters. The Park Zoo itself becomes a part of the story, from the catalpa tree to the buffalo pens the Park is a living entity. The animals, performers, employees and zoo keepers all serve to enrich the story. When Two Feathers Fell From the Sky is a story of friendship, romance, murder and mysticism. There are ghosts that visit the park and they too have a vital role to play. This is also a story of race and class and of a time where boundaries were firmly set . However, Verble provides a glimmer of hope for shifting viewpoints as she provides her lessons in history. I really enjoyed this book and would love to read more about Two Feathers and her adventures.


Enchanting, delightful read
What and enchanting, delightful book! Not only is the book beautifully written, but the characters and story line create a world that you are drawn into and want to be a part of. Set in 1926 Nashville in the now defunct Glendale Park and Zoo, Verble brings Two Feathers, a Cherokee horse diver, to life along with other splendid characters like Crawford, her closest friend, Clive Lovett, head gamekeeper and tormented soul from WWI who rescues Two when she suffers a trac fall, Little Elk, a ghost who seeks to protect Two and some delightful animals in the zoo with whom Two “talks” too. The book illustrates the racism of that time and has true events like the wrap up the Scopes trial that ground the story. I hated when the book ended because I had come to love the people. This is a wonderful book.

Cloggie Downunder

Entertaining and thought-provoking historical fiction.
When Two Feathers Fell From The Sky is the third novel by American Pulitzer Prize finalist, Margaret Verble. It’s 1926 and Cherokee horse diver Two Feathers is performing at Glendale Park and Zoo near Nashville, Tennessee, regularly sending money home to her family at The Miller Brothers One Hundred and One Ranch in Oklahoma. She loves the animals of the zoo, especially the bison, and enjoys the company of three friends: Marty and Franny Montgomery, the Juggling Juggernauts, and Hank Crawford, the stable hand.

Two is used to propositions from male fans, but had her heart broken during the winter at home so she is wary of communications from a man who calls himself Strong-Red-Wolf, clearly a fake Indian name. Little Elk, on the other hand, is no fake, but she’s mostly unaware of his presence. It takes him a while to understand why he has, once more, been drawn from the afterlife into the in-between: “To kill the murderous night-going witch. To save the woman and animals.”

James Shackleford, owner of Glendale, consults with Two about establishing a box-turtle race as an attraction. Before this can get going, though, disaster strikes Two’s act and she ends up on crutches after being rescued from an underground cave-in by Clive Lovett, the Zoo’s general manager. Her enforced inactivity allows her to see certain things from a different perspective: the sick hippo, the romantic pursuit by the charming college anthropology graduate, and her performing future.

Verble populates her tale with a large cast, some of whom she allocates a vignette, while others receive much more than a potted history. And those characters are not exclusively human: buffalo, bear, monkey and hippopotamus also make a significant contribution.

Perhaps the most interesting are the zoo manager who, haunted by his wartime experience, becomes aware of spirits present in the park; Two Feathers, with her strong connection to the animals and her distrust of most whites; deep-thinking Hank whose genuine care for Two is unstinting; and Little Elk, whose naive perspective on a modern world occasionally provides humour.

Verble easily evokes the era with the customs of the day and the mindset of the community with regards the black population and the Indians, and the controversial Scopes trial and appeal. Her plot manages to include a scalping, theft from a tomb, electrocution, a spirit with a tobacco craving, several romances and, trigger warning, the death of three animals.

Verble states in her notes that many of the characters are based on the lives of real people, while certain activities and events have basis in fact. It is clear that her research on such topics as massacres omitted from teaching, and mass robbing of Indian graves, is thorough. Entertaining and thought-provoking historical fiction.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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Author Information

Margaret Verble Author Biography

Photo: Tim Walden

Margaret Verble is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Her first novel, Maud's Line, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her second novel, Cherokee America, has recently been listed by the New York Times as one of the 100 Notable Books of the Year for 2019. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

Link to Margaret Verble's Website

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