A struggling family in rural Michigan finds that fracking for natural gas can be positive and negative.
In this moving story, ably told through the eyes of an 11-year-old “born naturalist,” Helget weaves themes of poverty, parenting, appreciation for the natural world, and forgiveness through a balanced presentation of the complicated contemporary issue of energy supplies. Life has not been easy for Fern, a white girl who is sore-pressed to keep her family—stepfather Toivo and two younger brothers—together. Her mother and a third brother were killed in an auto accident two years earlier. Wounded physically and emotionally by his service in Iraq, Toivo loves his children deeply but has had trouble finding and keeping work in a diminishing economy. Fern forages and Toivo hunts in the old-growth forest behind their home, the forest where Kloche’s Hydraulic Fracturing wants to put a wastewater pond. Worse, Fern’s grandfather supports the fracking; his company will sell Kloche’s lots of piping. He’s also demanding custody of the children. Fern’s first-person voice is completely convincing. Her vocabulary and phrasing is rural Midwestern, and her imagery comes from the natural world she loves. The sense of place is palpable. The author demonstrates the poverty of Fern’s family and friends (including a Muslim family from Somalia) with telling detail, and the tension and action arise naturally. Though occasional small details may pull readers out of the narrative, this nuanced take on a pressing issue is an important one.
Middle-grade readers will find much to think about in this beautifully written story. (Fiction. 8-12)