I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Miyax, like many adolescents, is torn. But unlike most, her choices may determine whether she lives or dies. At 13, an orphan, and unhappily married, Miyax runs away from her husband's parents' home, hoping to reach San Francisco and her pen pal. But she becomes lost in the vast Alaskan tundra, with no food, no shelter, and no idea which is the way to safety. Now, more than ever, she must look hard at who she really is. Is she Miyax, Eskimo girl of the old ways? Or is she Julie (her "gussak"-white people-name), the modernized teenager who must mock the traditional customs? And when a pack of wolves begins to accept her into their community, Miyax must learn to think like a wolf as well. If she trusts her Eskimo instincts, will she stand a chance of surviving?
***Wanda's Summer Carnival of Children's Literature***
Although I know that I read Julie of the Wolves when I was about 11 years old, I could not recall a single detail of it, just a general impression that it had been an enjoyable book. I think I got much more out of it reading it as an adult!
What I can truly appreciate now is the wonderful depiction of the natural world, the Arctic environment. The author spent some time in Alaska, doing biological research, and her knowledge of the area just shines through. Not just wolves, but lemmings, skuas, foxes, and a variety of other birds and animals populate these pages, strongly appealing to the naturalist in me.
As a child, I certainly did not understand the sadness about the changing way of life of the people of the Arctic. George was obviously sorry to see the Native people losing their traditional way of life and becoming initiated into regular North American culture. The ending is particularly heart wrenching, as Julie faces the fact that she must also join in settled life. I experienced similar feelings when visiting Bhutan—the young people were all excited about the internet and joining in world culture, but as a visitor, I saw that their culture risked losing so much of its uniqueness as a result. Yet who in their right mind would deny them the right to modernize? It’s a balancing act, to take the best of other cultures while retaining what is best of your own.
I think there are echoes in this book of the idea that Native peoples and their cultures would inevitably die out, something which so many are still struggling against. So many indigenous languages are quickly going extinct, being replaced by European languages. Hopefully, these communities will be able to hold the line against further erosion of their cultures and languages.