CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 28. . . .March 23, 2018
Those Who Run in the Sky.
Aviaq Johnston. Illustrated by Toma Feizo Gas.
Iqaluit, NU: Inhabit Media. 2017.
207 pp., trade pbk., $13.95.
Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Once his sobs finally quieted, he felt numb. The wolves holding his limbs began to jog, carrying him stretched in a spread eagle posture. He went limp, forgetting the pain and forgetting to struggle to stay alive.
Pitu was not proud of his lament. He was embarrassed and upset, but he was drained, unable to control his emotions. There were no other hunters around to judge him, no other humans who could tell the story of a young hunter crying remorselessly, gripped by the teeth of half a dozen wolves.
He even began to miss the company of Inukpak.
The crying had released a feeling of resolve that slowly bloomed within him. He was dying, the infection in his wounds made that evident. There were no herbs or remedies that could heal a leg that had turned black. Maybe he could be saved by cutting it off, but there was no way he could do it without help from another person.
I will not see my family again, he told himself. But I will join my father soon.
It was then, when he thought of his father, that he gained a blinding strength. Pitu felt it ripple through his body, making him feel, for the first time, that he had more power than the black wolves. A memory sprang to his mind, people of his village calling him a name he was embarrassed by, but now it was the only thing that gave him strength. He fought against the grip of each wolf’s jaws, shook himself loose from their grasp and stood, putting little weight on his right leg. He ignored the pain, ignored that his vision was blurry.
“I am Piturniq the Great Hunter,” he screamed at the wolves, his voice hoarse from the crying. “I will not die like a coward.”
The giant black wolf growled with rage. The wolves all seemed alarmed by this.
Pitu was shocked by his surge of energy, too. He felt the adrenaline rushing from his skin again in a confused frenzy, painting his vision with ugly pink and yellow stars. He sagged and fell over.
Piturniq (Pitu) is a 16 year old Inuit boy who is rapidly becoming one of the best hunters in his community. He seems so intelligent and so mature that he is considered to be the next shaman and leader. While others call Pitu the Great Hunter, he is not convinced of his own abilities and feels he is not ready for more responsibility. He goes hunting on his own one day and is swallowed up by a violent blizzard which carries Pitu into the world of the spirits. There, he faces strange and terrifying creatures: ugly black wolves, a giant who can carry him in the palm of her hand, and a shaman who has been trapped in the spirit world for years. Pitu must learn from all of these extraordinary beings if he is to master his own innate powers and return to his family and the girl he loves in the real world.
Those Who Run in the Sky is the first novel written by Aviaq Johnston, an Inuit author from Igloolik, NU. In 2017, the book was nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award for Young People’s literature.
Johnston gives her readers insight into traditional Inuit culture and mythology. Readers see the lifestyle of the ‘old days’ as Inuit move from winter to summer camps and spend time fishing and hunting in order to ensure their survival and that of their families.
Into this scenario comes Pitu, a young Inuit teen who is dealing with such day to day necessities as improving his hunting skills and training his own dog sled team in order to contribute to the well being of his community. His father has passed away, and there are times when Pitu doesn’t understand his mother and her attitude toward him. As well, Pitu is in love with Saima but is unsure how to express his feelings. In other words, he faces some very typical teenage concerns.
Much of this coming of age story takes place in the spirit world where Pitu begins to learn about courage and responsibility and the attributes he will need in order to lead his community. It is here that he learns life lessons about dealing with pride and jealousy and here he gains strength and self esteem. The spirit world tests everything about Pitu, making this a sort of initiation rite before he can assume his adult role as leader. The world is filled with terrifying creatures, such as black wolves with red eyes and the qallupilluq, creatures who steal children. These are woman like creatures: “large, bulbous eyes, like those of a fish, bulged out of their faces; their mouths were black holes filled with sharp teeth. The taut skin that clung tightly to their bones was a pallid shade of grey, resembling a drowned body.” (p. 85) Truly the stuff of nightmares! Johnston’s descriptions are detailed and bring the various spirits to life. Throughout the book, there are black and white illustrations by Toma Feizo Gas which enhance the written descriptions and add depth and interest to the story.
Those Who Run in the Sky is a fascinating novel which shows a young teen becoming a man and an eventual leader of his people. Young readers will relate to and empathize with Pitu on his learning journey. The spirit world adds a sense of mythology and fantasy to the story and also gives readers insight into the traditional lifestyle of the Inuit as well as their stories and legends. The title of the novel refers to another portion of the dream world visited by Pitu where spirits of the dead, including his father, play a sort of soccer game in the sky and create the Northern Lights.
Johnston helps her readers travel to a part of Canada which most of us will never experience first hand. She introduces readers to the sights and sounds and smells of the Arctic as well as to traditional culture. Inuktitut words are sprinkled through the text, and a glossary at the end of the book helps with meanings and pronunciations.
Those Who Run in the Sky provides excitement, adventure, romance, fantasy and a chance to understand more of the stories and knowledge of northern Canada. Thank you, Aviaq Johnston, for sharing all of this with so many readers.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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