Amelia Otterchild Mackenzie, a Cree-Scottish half-blood, orphaned twice, struggles to find places for herself and her young sister Charlotte among the Hudson’s Bay fur-trading community.
Her birth father abandoned her and her mother when she was an infant, traveling west to the Red River and never returning. She has friends among the white men of the fort, but no place to live; the Cree, who welcome her, are starving. When a mysterious creature swims toward her in a fogbound river, Amelia recognizes it as her pawakan, her spirit-animal, and hopes it will lead her to her true life. The creature is a stallion whose white mistress—the first white woman Amelia has ever seen—is bound for none other than the Red River. Amelia's fascination with the horse leads it to trust her enough to follow her up a swaying gangplank onto a small riverboat; she, Charlotte and the white woman, Orchid, embark on a 600-mile journey west. Harrison sensitively depicts Amelia's feelings of both belonging and abandonment as she stands with her feet in two worlds. The Cree and the white settlers are portrayed accurately and sympathetically, but without sentiment; complicated situations unfold without simple answers. Amelia never believes that the stallion Foxfire belongs to her, only feeling in her heart that they are linked. (A map will be posted on the author’s website.)
The emotionally satisfying ending underscores the relationship beautifully. (Historical fiction. 10-14)