An Alaska teenager sorts out her complicated family and campaigns for girls’ self-esteem and independence.
In this debut contemporary novel, Sobey introduces 17-year-old Crystal M. Rose (named, like her younger brother, JD, for one of her parents’ preferred substances), who writes songs in response to the drug use, objectification of girls, and general malaise she sees among her peers in small-town Alaska. With the help of her best friend, Kato, who runs his own blog advocating for the Native community, Crystal launches the book’s titular endeavor to share her songs with a wider audience. (The lyrics are featured in the novel’s text, and a companion website, thewarblog.com, includes recordings.) The songs draw a mixture of scorn and support from her classmates and attention from politicians and the broader community, including Crystal and JD’s long-absent father, who poses a threat to his children. After Crystal and her loved ones relocate to Kato’s coastal village when their house is destroyed, she begins communicating with a blog commenter, setting in motion further family and community drama and reconciliation. Sobey, a resident of rural Alaska, portrays Crystal’s world with an insider’s perspective, vividly depicting the environment and traditions—the protagonist participates in a whale harvest—while also presenting a community nearly destroyed by drugs, alcohol (JD was named for Jack Daniel’s), and violence. The complex story of Crystal’s relatives and the lies they tell is well-executed, and Sobey keeps the many layers of the narrative balanced. But while Crystal’s passionate defense of girls who exist to satisfy boys’ desires is genuine, her enthusiasm often becomes judgmental (“How did your daughter turn into a drug addict?” she asks her grandparents; she tells a pregnant teen: “You’re going to have to teach her to not make the same mistakes”). And the protagonist’s interpretation of problems in the Native community (“Deep down, they believed their culture to be less….Somehow they needed to purge themselves and find a better path”) is off-putting.
An engaging, if uneven, look at the problems of rural Alaska through the eyes of a teen.