In 1970, a decade after statehood, the difficult lives of four Alaska teens are transformed when their paths intersect.
Growing up poor is tough anywhere; it has its own flavor in Fairbanks. Raised with her younger sister by their grimly religious grandmother, Ruth is isolated and unprotected. For Inupiat Dora, life improves when she’s informally adopted by a kind Athabascan family, but although her violent, alcoholic dad’s in jail, she still feels unsafe. Alyce, whose parents have separated, lives with her mother in Fairbanks, fishing with her dad in summer. She wants to audition for college dance programs and that means staying in Fairbanks, disappointing her dad. Fleeing a troubled home, Hank and his brothers sneak onto a ferry heading south; then one disappears. The Alaskan author depicts places and an era rarely seen in fiction for teens: shopping for winter clothes at the Fairbanks Goodwill, living in a summer fish camp on the Yukon River and on a small fishing boat. All benefit from her journalist’s eye for detail. Though compact, the novel features a large cast of sympathetic characters. At first somber but resonant, the plot eventually veers onto a different course. As the tone shifts to highly upbeat, outcomes feel pat, rewards unearned. The effect is to gloss over and minimize the aftereffects of childhood poverty, fractured families, and domestic trauma.
The talented author and original subject matter largely counterbalance missteps. (Historical fiction. 12-16)