Eager to prove himself, an Alaska Native child helps his father free a baby whale from a net, then stows away to join an expedition to a distant village.
Peratrovich bases his tale on an event from his Tlingit grandfather’s youth, preceding the narrative with a glossary and introductory descriptions of the Tlingit moiety system and village life that both are generalized and include some contradictory information. In the story proper, when 10-year-old Kéet goes fishing for cháatl (halibut) with his father, he cuts a yáay (whale—the exact species is not indicated) from a floating net made of strange materials, probably by the “pale people.” The following day, he stows away aboard one of a fleet of canoes dispatched to another village in the wake of an unspecified “wrong” to a clan member. The whales reciprocate the earlier good deed by helping the canoes through a storm. Discovered, Kéet gets a long lecture from his father—who then goes on to face a hostile reception at their destination and settle the dispute not with violence but with talk and ceremonial exchange of gifts. In a concluding note, the author confides that the whale encounters are his own invention and never does get around to explaining what made the titular canoe the “last” one. A spare handful of murky illustrations offer at best hazy impressions of what that canoe, ceremonial headgear, and longhouse village looked like.
Stronger at conveying a sense of Tlingit life than at spinning a tale that will appeal to general audiences. (map) (Historical fiction. 9-11)