The story of three Iñupiaq children (then known as Eskimos) living above the Arctic Circle who are sent to a Catholic boarding school with other children, white and Indian.
Told by five different narrators covering the time period 1960-65, this is essentially Luke’s story, whose native—and, as the title indicates, difficult-to-pronounce—name is not revealed until toward the end. Forbidden to use their language, fed unfamiliar food and under the thumb of priests and nuns, some strict and some kind but whose religion is unfamiliar, Luke’s homesickness is visceral. The good wishes and intentions of other children, their teachers and their parents all fail to offer comfort or to soften the hardships endured. Details of the outside world and the concerns of the day are woven in to the narrative, often highlighting how astonishingly oblivious the world is to the reality of life in Alaska. The rivalry between Indian and Eskimo is made equally vivid, along with the stereotypes and bias that both sides believe about the other. Readers will see these children become adolescents, imbibing of the rebellion that the decade is known for in the lower 48 and allowing proximity to build bridges of understanding and hope, even in the midst of death and loss. Not herself Iñupiaq, Edwardson (Blessing’s Bead, 2009) makes clear in a note that this is a reflection of the childhood experiences of her contemporaries, including her husband, on whom the character of Luke is based.Painful, inspiring and affectionate. (Historical fiction. 10-14)