Whispering Alaska

Delacorte. Oct. 2021. 288p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780593303535.
Gr 3-6–Set in Southeast Alaska, this novel follows a family that relocates to an Alaskan island after the death of their mother from COVID-19. Immediately upon arriving, they find themselves embroiled in the local debate about clearcutting forest and maintaining logging jobs or protecting trees and wildlife habitats. Skillfully combining the newer themes of the pandemic and environmental activism with traditional themes like family, loss, and sibling rivalries, this book is compelling and modern. Beautiful descriptive language evokes the landscape of Alaska, and the author’s love of his home in the Tongass National Forest shines from every page. The main characters are white, but they are related by marriage to a Tlingit family, and the book showcases the tension between long-time Alaskan residents, Natives, and new arrivals when it comes to managing natural resources. Some elements of the Tlingit portrayal seem quite accurate, while others tend toward plot convenience rather than authenticity. The book reads as almost entirely realistic with the exception of the ability of some characters to talk to trees and feel through them, which is slightly jarring in context. It also veers into potential stereotypes, touching on the “magical Indian” figure and the subsequent trope of the white protagonist excelling at Indigenous traditional practices.
VERDICT A descriptive, contemplative novel exploring environmentalism and grief against the backdrop of Alaska and COVID-19 that is unfortunately marred by stereotypes.

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