MINUK: Ashes in the Pathway
Among the debut titles in the Girls of Many Lands series (see Spring Pearl , reviewed below), Hill's (The Year of Miss Agnes ) finely detailed novel set in a Yup'ik Eskimo village in the 1890s feels mesmerizingly authentic. Minuk, the narrator, is 12 the spring that the missionary family arrives, and like the other children she is fascinated by the sight of her first kass'aq (white) woman and child. She can't imagine what the "sort of pink butterfly" hanging from the clothesline is (a corset, which astonishes her still further), and when Mrs. Hoff invites her inside for a cup of tea, she sits on a chair for the first time (and tips hers over) and slurps loudly, "to be polite." These initial misunderstandings may be comic, but the encounters between the Hoffs and the Yup'ik have grave consequences. Mr. and Mrs. Hoff condemn the villagers' rituals and practices. Yet, as seen through Minuk's eyes, the customs make sense, and Hill demonstrates that the Yup'ik belief systems are at least as coherent as Hoffs' version of Christianity ("If your god is love," Minuk asks Mr. Hoff, "why does he make people burn in hell?"). The author penetrates Yup'ik culture to such an extent that readers are likely to find the Hoffs more foreign than Minuk and her family. At the same time, the author doesn't glamorize the villagers, in particular exposing the severe conditions facing women. Not only the heroine but the vanished society here feel alive in their complexities. Ages 9-12. (Oct.)
FYI:Other titles in this season's launch of the Girls of Many Lands series: Neela: Victory Song by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni(HC -597-5; PB -521-5); Isabel: Taking Wing by Annie Dalton ( HC -593-2; PB -517-7) ; Cécile: Gates of Gold by Mary Casanova (HC -594-0; PB -518-5).
Release date: 09/01/2002