This book was fantastic, and reminds me a little of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
The story is of Elka, and how as a young girl of 7, she meets Trapper and is raised by him for 10 years. Then one day, she finds his wanted poster on the wall in town and the chase(s) is/are on.
Elka is a huntress, trained by Trapper. Uneducated in all other aspects, she is running through the forests (seemingly in British Columbia, Canada) trying to avoid the law, who suspects she knows something, and Trapper, both who are hot on her trail. She’s on her way to find the parents that abandoned her when she was young.
Add to all of this the dystopic nature of the times. Some ‘thing’ happened years before Elka was born…some sort of war with the Russians, it seems, and life has reverted back to 18th/19th century living in most parts. Most folks called it the Damn Stupid-the perfect name. No cars, no electricity, no printing press, but the occasional canned food or rifle/shotgun/pistol makes an appearance. This dynamic between then and now is interesting, especially because Elka doesn’t know ‘before’. Elka’s world is chaotic, with massive thunderstorms and snow storms that are minor characters in their own right.
As she makes the long journey to find her long lost parents, she encounters many hardships and mishaps along the way. Not raised around many humans has made these encounters awkward, scary, innocent, and even doused in betrayal. You want very much to wrap Elka in your arms and say “Don’t trust this person and here is why….”. She learns all the lessons she needs too and on she goes to the next stop, hardened and smarter for the next interaction.
This story was fast paced, despite taking about a year to come to a conclusion. The changes in Elka…the release of some stubbornness, the retained innocence, the dissolution of that hard shell she lived within for years, the self reflection- is both difficult and beautiful to watch. The choices she makes that result in her becoming a tough vigilante teenager are impossible to imagine, even as an adult. This book would be acceptable for any teenager to read- there is no sex, only the glancing blows of violence, nothing gratuitously descriptive. My imagination could fill in the details if it wanted to go there.
Interestingly enough, I read this on a trip to Vancouver, BC, and didn’t realize that BC was (probably) where this took place. Having seen the landscape there, and read this at the same time, Elka truly is a feminist, bad ass hero. She’s more of an adult than most of the people I know. If all women were as brave and stolid as her, the world we be a much different place.
My favorite lines:
“I don’t much like roads. Roads is some other man’s path that people follow no question. All my life I lived by rules of the forest and rules of myself. One a’ them rules is don’t go trusting another man’s path. No matter if that’s a real one trodden into dirt or all them twists and turns his life has taken. People do it, they do what their mommies and daddies did, they make them same mistakes, they have them same joys and hurts, they just repeating. Trees don’t grow exactly where their momma is; ain’t no room, ain’t enough light and water so they end up wilting and dying off.”
“Them words on that piece a’ nothing could send me back south on that boat or could set me right on my path north. All from paper. That rubbish that rips easier’n cotton, breaks down to mush in water, bleaches out its meaning after too long in the sun. That paper right there in Big Betty’s meaty fingers, and the people who could make sense of it, had total power over me.”
One final note: The book is written from Elka’s point of view, so it is written just as she would have spoken it. This made the novel even more beautiful. No one really comments on her lack of education, despite running into characters who are clearly more educated than her. No one really points out her appearance other than to mistake her for a boy at one point. As dystopic as the times are, this was refreshing. Here’s Elka, fighting for justice and her life, and not having to worry about also fighting the prejudice that comes along with being raised differently than others or being uneducated. AWESOME job, Beth Lewis!
Here are a few links:
This is Beth Lewis’s website. Keep up to date on her current projects!
Here is a great article about how Beth Lewis studied hunting and outdoorsy-ness to write the book. Which I find FASCINATING.
Here are some TV women that Beth Lewis finds to be bad ass. Which are also fascinating.