UNSEEN COMPANION by Denise Goslinger Orenstein


Age Range: 14 & up
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This gritty, tightly written Alaskan realism, set in 1969, tackles harsh conditions and whether a sense of self is possible despite them. Two Gussak (Caucasian) and two Yup’ik teenagers, each with an impressively distinct voice and unique pain, take turns narrating in first-person. The four stories intersect over the existence of another teen, a mysterious boy who seems to have been beaten and abandoned: is Dove Alexie real, though, and why aren’t there records of him, and why did he disappear? Poverty is the bedrock of numbing depression, racism (running in multiple directions between Gussak, Yup’ik, Indian, and Aleutian), rape, and suicide. A colloquial syntax featuring verbs in present tense provides unusual flavor, as do the complex and fully realized characters, both primary and secondary. Substantial, intermittently spiritual, and very sad: glimmers of hope appear for the two Gussak kids, but only despair seems possible for the two Yup’ik, whose perspective has dwindled away by the end. (glossary) (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-06-052056-6
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2003