Durbin's first novel is an impressive coming-of-age tale set in Montreal at the dawn of the 19th century. When Pierre's father cuts himself severely while doing one of the boy's chores, the guilt-ridden 13-year-old leaves school and enlists as a voyageur for the North West Company. Voyageurs freighted goods thousands of miles, from Montreal to Grand Portage. As one of the rowers in one of the convoy's canoes, Pierre, who knows his family will not last the winter without his wages, paddles 16-18 hours a day, with few breaks. Soon, bloodied, blistering hands, aching muscles, and taunts from the older, more seasoned voyageurs fill his days. While the physical demands threaten to crush his spirit, Pierre nevertheless remains open-minded, and soon kinder men like La Londe and Charbonneau offer friendly advice and keep an eye out for the hardworking young man. Durbin brings in a wealth of facts about the canoes, the countryside, and tools the voyageurs used, all adding realism to the tale. The sudden drowning of La Londe sends the boy into a confrontation with grief that leaves him with a clear-eyed view of mortality. The teasing and name-calling of the crustier voyageurs is unrelenting, but appropriate for this salty, rough, and feisty bunch. Readers will embrace this unusual journey and its path to true bravery, strength of character, and self-reliance.