________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 2 . . . . September 14, 2007


Orphan Ahwak.

Raquel Rivera.
Victora, BC: Orca, 2007.
143 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 978-1-55143-653-1.

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.

Review by Betty Klassen.
**½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reader Copy.


Aneze let go of her mother’s hair and let out a great war-whoop, like Brother and his friends used to do. “AHHWAAHHHHH! AYAYAYAYAY Aiiiiiie!” Birds fluttered out of the trees, offended by the noise. Aneze stood up and stomped around. “YAH! YAH! WAHHHHH!”

She wasn’t going to lie down. It wasn’t going to be that easy.

Aneze pulled out her knife and started cutting off her hair. She would fight smart, like Father. Great ropes of hair fell around her. It hurt; the knife pulled a lot. She would just have to learn to bear it. She would just have to learn.

Aneze gathered all her hair and made a cushion for Mother’s head. Then Aneze scratched at the bloodstained earth under Mother. It was wet. She used it to paint her face, to make herself look scary, like a warrior. There.

She untied Mother’s pocket and put it with her own. She removed Mother’s leggings. Aneze’s leggings were wearing thin. She smoothed Mother’s tunic down. She had to get going, out of this territory. She didn’t want to run into enemies right now.

She’d go north, straight to the barren ground, far away. Aneze was sick of this forest anyway.

Readers meet Aneze, a young native girl, as she is regaining consciousness after a massacring wife-raid and she sees that her brother is beheaded and her father and everyone else in the village is dead, except for the women who she knows have been kidnapped. This shocking start will either lead readers to put the book down or compel them to read on to find out how she survives.

     After finding her mother’s body, Aneze renames herself Orphan Ahwak, “pushes the black away,” and chooses fight to survive alone in the wilderness as she decides to travel north, away from the familiar landscape of the forest to the tundra in the far north. She is a strong, resourceful young girl, superhuman in her knowledge and skill. For most of the story, she is disguised as a hunter (boy). The plot moves forward as she gains skill in hunting; travels to the far north and meets an Inuit hunter who accepts her as family and teaches her new skills to survive in the north. Flashbacks of memories of her brother and father provide her with necessary knowledge and courage to carry on. After spending a winter with the Inuit hunter, Orphan Ahwak decides to return to the familiar territory of the forest where she meets a new family and encounters the wife-raiders a second time. As she struggles to find a place in this family, as both a hunter and a girl, she receives guidance from the animals and dream visions.

     Raquel Rivera has written a book that makes readers recoil in horror at the detailed and grisly descriptions of the killing both of people and animals, the heartbreaking scene where Aneze lays down beside her dead mother’s body, and her encounter with the enemy wife-raiders. In contrast, Rivera leaves the setting of time and place, and the age of the heroic Orphan Ahwak for the reader to speculate on.

     While Orphan Ahwak is not a totally realistic story, readers will be drawn to the central character, wanting her to be credible and wanting her to survive and to find a way to be accepted by the family she longs for. Rivera has written this story with touches of humor and tenderness to provide relief from the struggle and the horror. I would not recommend this novel for readers as young as 8, or in grade 3, as suggested by the publisher. I also strongly recommend that, if it is used within a school setting, teachers discuss the practices and beliefs of some of northern Canadian First Nations tribes to prepare students for the opening chapters. If children read it at home, it would be good for parents to read it also and be prepared to discuss some of the events in the book.

Recommended with reservations.

Betty Klassen teaches in the Faculty of Education in the Middle Years Program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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