William C. Morris Award Finalist for 2017
Four narratives of teens living in Alaska soon after it became a state intertwine into a coming-of-age story that is unflinchingly detailed and messy with emotion but ultimately heartwarming.
When Ruth was a young child, she lived with her mother and father who loved their life hunting and enjoying each other. After her father died in an airplane crash trying to keep Alaska from being a state, young Ruth and her infant sister Lily are taken to live with their firm, serious grandmother while their mother quietly goes mad from grief. Life with Gran means having church casseroles a lot and never feeling too good about yourself. The only thing keeping Ruth sane is her best friend Selma and her boyfriend Ray, but when Ray gets a new girlfriend and Ruth has a secret to keep, she begins to see things differently.
Dora feels she will never escape the shadow of her father’s abusive drunkenness and her mother’s alcoholism and inability to be responsible or loving. She lives with her best friend Dumpling and her family in order to stay safe. However, when she wins a portion of the Ice Classic and the newspaper really wants to know details, Dora must confront her worst fears, especially when an accident happens and her future is in jeopardy.
Alyce longs to try out for ballet to win a scholarship for college, but with her parents divorced, each summer she goes to help her dad during salmon season and that conflicts with her audition. Since her parents have been divorced, Alyce doesn’t want to make things worse, but she finds it hard to talk to them, especially when her dream is so different from theirs.
Hank and his younger brothers have stolen away on a ferry boat to find a better life away from the unhappiness of their mother and stepfather, but when Sam, the middle brother, falls overboard and goes missing, Hank does everything to try and find him. In their search, the three brothers might find something better than they expected.
I was unprepared to be emotional over the ending of this book! The descriptions sometimes sear in your mind (the description of the backstrap and bloody hands in her mother’s hair?), but yet it kind of brings you to the 1970’s Alaska. You never knew thoughts on Alaska could be so complex. It really brought about an understanding of the different types of characters that made up Alaska when it was new, and the heritage would still be important today what with the fishing trades, the hunting (newsworthy recently), and indigenous peoples. Since the descriptions could be unappealing at times and many of the characters so unhappy, I wasn’t sure what I was reading, but I am glad I finished it. It still propelled you along (as long as you didn’t get confused about who is narrating which section), and the ending blew me away. Lots of tears, happy tears?
If you want to read an interview with Bonnie-Sue, read this over at the Hub.