By Jean Craighead George encompasses the circular nature of survival and reveals how much humankind needs the earth by portraying a single girl, Miyax, whose personal life falls apart and who then befriends a wolfpack to become a member of their family by learning how to communicate with them in her own manner in ways they will understand.
Miyax is 13 and has run away from a child marriage to a boy named Daniel who seems to have a borderline IQ or some sort of mental difference. He is described as "dull" but Miyax still finds a fair enough home with him and his family at first, as she learns to sew professionally and enjoys school. The tourists need parkas to survive the winter, ones made by Eskimos as their store bought jackets are usually never enough for Alaskan winters.
But then Daniel begins to expect sex from Julie as he is teased for not really being married to his wife. This scares the girl and she runs away with the hope of reaching San Francisco.
Long before her marriage to Daniel, Julie had been told by her stepmother, Martha that her father was dead, that he and his kayak went into the sea and only broken pieces of the vessel were ever found. When life became unbearable with her stepmother, the young teenager began to view marriage as a way out for her father told her she could marry Daniel, who she had never met and knew nothing about. There is no high school in Mekoryuk and Martha could not afford to send Julie to the mainland to further the girl's education.
Miyax began to wonder that if she wed Daniel, perhaps the boy's father, Naka would send her to school. It is hard to believe that the matter was decided by the Head of the Indian Affairs in Mekoryuk, who says, " 'You are now thirteen and I have in my files an agreement for this arrangement signed by Kapugen and Naka.' "
The circumstances seem impossible that such a marriage would take place in the 1950s or 1960s, much less that the head of Indian Affairs would insist on it based on paperwork signed by the children's fathers. Perhaps this did happen though.
Transportation is paid for and provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take Miyax from the port in Mekoryuk, and after a couple of transfers to Barrow. George is mocking of the gussak's sensibilities toward the Eskimo and nature as the airline pilot describes the world below: " ' The Arctic Research Laboratory, where scientists study the Arctic. People from all over the world come here to investigate the top of the world. We now know a lot about living in the cold.' " I doubt few things sound more stupid to an Eskimo than a laboratory building built to study how to live in the cold.
Overall, with alcoholism and child marriage at the forefront of problems in Julie's world, it cannot be said that the Eskimos are portrayed well. Julie's best family situation is among the wolves, after she runs away from Daniel. But her favorite, Amaroq, the leader of the pack and her adopted father, is gunned down by gussak shooters for their own sense of random amusement.
The shooting from the air darkens Miyax's world and she no longer wishes to go to San Francisco, where Amy, her pen pal lives. She finds her father alive and with a new partner named Ellen, but she runs away again as the father's Westernized lifestyle reminds her too much of the blood behind it all. Julie is a byproduct of a dying world that seems to have trouble economically assimilating within the culture that was raped of its independence many years before. Julie is very pretty and intelligent, but perhaps her inability to make a home in the new modern world comes from the fact that she does not want to.
By Sarah Bahl