A teenage girl in 1967 explores her father’s veiled past in this debut historical novel.
Fifteen-year-old Ida Petrovich worships her dad, a gregarious fisherman who makes a daring crossing every year from their town of Annisport, Washington, to Ketchikan, Alaska. But this year, his boat never returns home; the Coast Guard inform Ida and her mother that he’s “presumed drowned,” and they struggle with accepting that “someone’s dead when there’s no evidence.” Ida overhears a cryptic conversation between her mother and grandmother about her father, in which her mom says “I can’t have a funeral when I’m not even sure he’s dead.” So Ida decides to uncover the truth for herself. After contacting a woman whom his father knew in Ketchikan, she decides to run away from home and work at a cannery there for the summer, in the hopes of finding out more about her dad. Gutting fish for hours on end proves “tiring and monotonous,” but over time, Ida becomes friends with a spirited Tlingit girl named Jody and grows close to Sam Taposok, a Filipino-American boy from her high school who faces daily discrimination. Through it all, Ida grapples with her father’s identity: his affinity for the “scoundrel” raven of Alaskan myth; his personal charisma, which allowed him to create communities beyond his family; and his love for home, coupled with his desire to leave it. McGaffin deftly maps how Ida’s view of her father changes from an idol to a flawed human, as well as the way that grief encroaches on every element of one’s life. Overall, though, her novel is more heartwarming than bleak as it chronicles how the Petrovich women haltingly find ways to survive and plan for an unforeseen future. The relationship between Ida and her mother provides the main dramatic tension; the father’s absence exposes how they used him as an emotional buffer and forces them to communicate their fears. These heart-to-hearts become slightly less believable as the tale winds to a close, and McGaffin ties everything up a bit too neatly. Nevertheless, the story maintains a certain rawness that sustains its impact.
A charming, emotional story about family, fishing, and self-discovery.