A tender, perceptive, uncommon story of a boy growing up in the vast isolation of northern Canada during the 50's. Fifteen-year-old Noah Krainik narrates the story of a childhood unusual by almost anyone's standards. Along with his young orphaned cousin, Charlotte, he's raised in a village in far Manitoba, a village so small that the Krainik house is the only one in it. His father is a crazed, wandering cartographer who disappears for increasingly long periods of time; his mother, Mina, struggles to retain her sanity in the isolation. Noah spends his summers in the remote village of Quill, 90 miles away ""over scores of pothole lakes."" His best friend is the marvelous Pelly Bay, a quick, intense, artistic boy much loved by the Cree Indians, Swedes, Norwegians, French, and various combinations thereof who inhabit Quill. Noah and Pelly's adventures together are a boyhood idyll of Indian and wilderness lore--until Pelly falls through the ice one winter while riding a unicycle, and drowns. After discovering that his father has abandoned any pretense at map-making to live as an eccentric hermit, Noah is left with nothing to do but join Charlotte and Mina in Toronto, where the ever-enterprising Mina has pulled herself up by her bootstraps and actually bought a rundown theater called The Northern Lights. The story ends (somewhat abruptly) with Noah saying goodbye to his childhood forever and deciding to stay and learn the ways of the big city. Despite a rather unbelievable finish, a real achievement: a first novel that is exceptionally clearheaded, yet intense.