With this volume, Erdrich (Grandmother’s Pigeon, 1996, etc.) launches her cycle of novels about a 19th-century Ojibwa family, covering in vivid detail their everyday life as they move through the seasons of one year on an island on Lake Superior.
A baby girl crawls among the bodies of her family, dead from smallpox. After that stinging beginning, an unexpectedly enjoyable story follows, replete with believable characterizations, humor, family love, and misadventures. Omakayas, now seven, adores baby brother Neewo, detests rambunctious five-year-old brother Pinch, and worships her beautiful teenage sister, Angeline. Omakayas works and plays through the summer and fall, learning the ways of her people; she has a frightful adventure with bears and adopts a young raven as a pet. But in winter smallpox again affects her life: Neewo dies, and Angeline is scarred for life.
Omakayas cannot find her way back to happiness until an odd old woman tells her the truth of her past, in a novel that is by turns charming, suspenseful, and funny, and always bursting with life. (Fiction. 10-14)