My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book made me want to go live in Alaska!
Anne Hobbs is a young woman, nineteen years old, who decides she wants to teach in the Alaskan wilderness.
“From the time I’d been a girl I’d been thrilled with the idea of living on a frontier, so when I was offered the job of teaching school in a gold-mining settlement called Chicken, I accepted right away.”
The trip itself up to Chicken is arduous and Tisha has many adventures. She meets a grizzly bear, comes across (too closely!) a herd of caribou, and is almost swept away with her horse in the middle of a raging creek. During the journey, Anne copes with exhaustion, the discomforts of long hours in the saddle, and an ornery horse that refuses to obey her. While on the trail, she remembers those who had input into her life, who encouraged her to be strong and make decisions for herself; her high school teacher Ivy, and her grandmother.
“She (Granny) told me to sit up. “You’re gonna do big things some day, Annie – real big things. But you can’t do them big things if you’re gonna go round feelin’ sorry for herself.” She stopped for a second and she looked a little sad. “Your pa’s my son, child. He ain’t an easy man, but he ain’t a bad man neither. Whatever you think about ‘im you just remember he always stood on his own two feet an’ he learned you the same. An’ he always paid his own way. That’s what the Hobbses is like – all of them. Maybe him and your ma ain’t been too understandin’ of you, but they fed you good an’ give you a roof. That’s more than many’s got…”
“But they don’t really want me, Granny.”
“Yes they do. They just don’t know how to show it. But never mind that. If you got just one person in the whole world who loves you an’ believes in you, why that’s wonderful, don’t ya see.”
When she finally arrives in the mining town where she will be teaching a classroom of just under ten children, Anne finds she has many adjustments to make. She has very little supplies, a cabin that needs a lot of work done on it to make it livable, and cultural differences. But her biggest challenge (and definitely the biggest challenge for me, as a reader!) was encountering the prejudice against the Indian population and those of mixed blood.
Of course everyone knows that prejudice exists. It always has, and sadly, it seems that it always will be present in human hearts that refuse to accept that ‘all men are created equal.’ But in this book, set in the 1920’s, I found the circumstances and situations that are described to be, well, in Jane Austen’s language, ‘insupportable’.
I found it shocking that people in the village could speak so openly (and brutally) of their disdain for someone, simply because they were of a different race! And even worse, that Indian children could be denied a seat in a school just because they *were* Indian, made my blood boil (my reactions as a reader may seem a bit ‘overdone’ … however they also prove the talent of the author. The book is written as if you are right there with Annie, watching the scenes of her life play out and feeling her emotions!)
Anne herself proves to be resilient, not easily cowed, and demonstrates her compassionate nature when she takes in two Indian children, a decision that is not popular from either side (white or Indian), in the small village. And to top it off, Anne falls in love with a man who is half white, half Indian.
“There was a nurse up at Fort Yukon. About a year ago. She was white. She fell in love with an Indian minister, a really fine man. Everybody liked him, but once they found out that he and that nurse were in love with each other they made life so unbearable for the two of them that she finally went Outside and the Bishop had to transfer him to another parish. You see what I’m trying to say?”
I knew he was doing it for me and that he thought it was the right thing, but he was wrong. And yet I didn’t how how to make him see it.”
This book kept me reading into the late hours of the night as I sought to discover how Anne’s dilemmas would be resolved. Would she have any affect at all upon the hearts of the villagers? would they ever accept her choices, or would she lose her job? Would she even be allowed to teach in Alaska again?
The last few chapters were especially exciting as the two Indian children Anne tries to adopt are ‘stolen’ from her and there is a sled dog race and a poignant attempt to rescue a family that had come to grief in the Alaskan wilderness.
This book is a keeper, one for my ‘not-to-be-missed’ shelf!