Rgz SALON member Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the Editor-in-Chief of MultiCultural Review; the author of the award-winning multicultural bibliography Our Family, Our Friends, Our World; the editor of Once Upon a Cuento, a collection of short stories by Latino authors; and most recently, the author of Gringolandia, a young adult novel about a refugee family living with the aftermath of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.
We're honored to have her here as part of the rgz SALON, a feature where four of the top kidlit experts clue us in to the best YA novels they've read recently. Just in time for Native American Heritage Month, Lyn reviews Blessing's Bead by Debby Dahl Edwardson (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009).
"Edwardson traces four generations of an Iñupiaq family in this beautifully written novel sent in 1917-18 and in 1989-90. The first third of the novel is Nutaaq’s story, as the Iñupiaq girl on the cusp of womanhood travels with her family from their island in western Alaska to the Sheshalik inlet where the indigenous people of the Arctic region gather each year. Among them are the Siberian Eskimos, and Nutaaq’s older sister Aaluk falls in love with an athletic Siberian, even though Tupaaq, a friend of the girls’ family, hopes to marry Aaluk. When the festival ends, Aaluk departs with the Siberian, leaving behind two cobalt blue beads from the necklace he gave her. Nutaaq expects to see her sister in a year, but the borders close following the Russian Revolution, and the influenza epidemic devastates Nutaaq’s family and village. Left among a handful of survivors, Nutaaq marries Tupaaq. They adopt three orphan boys and later have a daughter, whom they name Aaluk for the missing sister.
"Seventy years later, Nutaaq’s great-granddaughter Blessing--who carries the Iñupiaq name Nutaaq--and great-grandson Isaac/Tupaaq leave their Anchorage home and travel to the remote northern village where Aaka (grandmother) Aaluk lives. Blessing and Isaac’s mother is a victim of a new epidemic--alcoholism. In the village of Ukpiagvik (Barrow, Alaska), the 12-year-old Blessing and her six-year-old brother discover a grandmother they barely know, a language they cannot speak, and a community of people who are all part of a family to which they fear they will never fully belong. Soon the months-long winter darkness is upon them as well.
"I have always wondered what it would be like to live in a place where the sun never sets in summer and never rises in winter. Edwardson captures the rhythm of life in such a place--the Arctic tundra where trees do not grow and where the ocean turns to slush by October and to ice not long afterward. Her descriptions are vivid, capturing not only the landscape but also its impact on the mood of the characters. Her portrayal of Blessing/Nutaaq’s struggle to fit into a tight community and recover a culture that has been all but stripped from her by her troubled mother is poignant and palpable. In the backdrop of the youngster’s personal journey is the political shift taking place in 1989-90--the falling of the Iron Curtain and the first Friendship Flight of Siberian Eskimos to Barrow. And thus the story comes full circle in a fitting and unforgettable conclusion.
"An Author’s Note following the story offers historical and cultural background, as well as observations on naming practices and on Edwardson’s quest for permission to write about the indigenous culture. (Although she is not Iñupiaq, she is married to an Iñupiaq man and has raised her two children within that culture.) A useful glossary of character and place names and common Inupiaq words with phonetic spellings concludes the book."
Follow Lyn's current blog tour for Gringolandia, and have a shot at winning a signed copy of the book each day. Here's the schedule: