Saturday, April 08, 2023

Whispering Alaska, by Brendan Jones

In the aftermath of their mother's death from COVID, Nicky and her twin sister Josie have ceased communicating with each other.  To help heal the rift and the family, their father decides to move them from Pennsylvania to join his family in southern Alaska.  But the peace that the family was trying to find is shattered by a conflict that has split the community: whether to clear cut the forest to bring in revenue.  Times are tough from the pandemic.  Tourists have stopped coming and bringing their spending money and so the search is on for alternative sources of revenue.  Without the infusion of cash that the lumber could bring in, people won't be able to make a living and the community will break up.  But at the same time, these are thousand year-old spruce trees that folks are talking about cutting up.  The damage will be long lasting.  While the girls are new to Alaska, they have been enchanted by the Tongass forest.  United by a calling to save the trees, the twins find a point of connect and a way to heal their grief.

A sweet and actually pretty fresh story that mostly defies its genre.  We have the dead mother, but don't dwell on her.  There's the pandemic, but that's mostly background.  There's a mild supernatural element, but it is largely ignored.  And the eco theme, while central to the story, is toned down.  The ultimate solution is a compromise (i.e., responsible stewardship of resources) and while overly optimistic, does portray the types of win-win solutions that generally have underlaid real life conservation success stories.  I might in fact criticize the story for not really pursuing any of these themes in any major way, but that decision leaves the book more digestible and less didactic.  What results is sufficiently educational with a light touch and has little bits of stuff (emotions, interpersonal relationships, magic, and adventure) to excite the reader.

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