In 1942, 14-year-old protagonist Kiska Baranoff’s island world turns upside down after Japan attacks Alaska.
For centuries Kiska’s people, the Aleuts, have lived according to their traditional ways on their island homes off the coast of Alaska. The men hunt seals, venturing into the ocean in baidarkas, or traditional kayaks. Kiska dreams of becoming a hunter herself, but tradition forbids the use of kayaks by women. Kiska knows women have other, important jobs to do: they gather sea gull eggs and clams, cut and dry salmon and other fish, and render seal oil. Not long after the Japanese attack, men in American Army uniforms land on Kiska’s island. They immediately round up all the villagers and force them into the belly of a ship to be taken to an undisclosed destination. Three hundred other Aleutians from many other islands in the archipelago are also forced onto the ship. It then travels 2,000 miles away and leaves them on Admiralty Island, an unfamiliar and stark environment. There they are housed in a decrepit building, an abandoned cannery that the Aleuts eventually improve. Soon after meeting an elder shaman, Agafon Krukoff, Kiska becomes his apprentice. Through his teachings, Kiska discover a way to help her people survive. Kiska narrates, describing the inhumane conditions, the soldiers’ racism, and terrible losses. The quiet tone of Smelcer’s text softens the cruelty the Aleutians suffer, and in the character of Kiska, he gives readers a strong, resourceful heroine.
A look at an obscure but important part of United States history. (Historical fiction. 10-14)