Twelve-year-old Willa must get her 10-year-old twin brothers safely through the Alaskan wilderness.
Five years ago, Willa’s widowed father uprooted their family to escape his grief by living out his survivalist, live-completely-off-the-land fantasies in rural Alaska. Since then, he’s gotten meaner and abusive, and he has relapsed into alcoholism. A combination of her father’s stubborn unwillingness to admit that they don’t have enough food for the winter, escalating physical abuse, and Willa’s fear that something’s wrong with her (she doesn’t know about periods) lead her to take the boys and flee to Fort Yukon on a rickety raft. They navigate wildlife (from bears to an orphaned wolf pup that one twin smuggles along), rough rivers, and supply problems, all while avoiding detection, as Willa’s afraid they’ll be returned to their father before she can contact their aunt in New York for help. Additionally, Willa has to continually persuade her brothers that they want to leave the only life they can remember, that there is something better out there. The survival elements are entertaining and informative, and there’s a good balance between self-sufficiency and reliance on adults for appropriate help at the novel’s climax. While not all is resolved by the end, the story concludes on a hopeful note. Willa’s family is white while the Fort Yukon population introduces mainly Gwichyaa Gwich’in people. The acknowledgements thank a wolf expert and a board member of the Gwich’in Council International.
Nuanced, character-driven action. (Adventure. 8-12)