Five years after her mother and baby sister die in the 1918 flu pandemic, Pearl’s father is lost in the last Makah whale hunt.
Pearl, 13, is determined to create a future for herself that honors her distinguished heritage; still, her extended family’s unaccustomed financial hardship and loss of status stings. The New York collector interested in their masks and carvings might offer a way out, but does he have a secret agenda? Pearl’s loving extended family supports her (the Makah have no word for orphan), but her mother’s skill at weaving and the dances and teachings she’d have given Pearl are gone forever. For guidance, Pearl turns to independent Aunt Susi, who drives a car and works for the post office, and her grandmother, who encourages Pearl’s talent for language. “When you write a word down, you own that word forever,” she says. However, becoming an adult is fundamentally a solitary journey; shipwrecked on a wild beach, Pearl begins hers. Stubborn, determined and resourceful, she’s good company. Parry, who taught school on the Quinault Indian reservation (neighbors of the Makah), writes with respect and affection for the people of the Washington coast, suggesting without didacticism what their right to hunt whales means to the Makah people.
This vivid, character-driven historical novel captivates. (map, bibliography, glossary, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 9-12)