I plucked this book off my local library’s New Fiction shelf without knowing a thing about it and was more than pleasantly surprised. Jamey Bradbury sets her story in rural Alaska and creates a compelling but sometimes cryptic narrator in seventeen-year-old Tracy Petrikoff. It’s a story that is both grittily realistic and beautifully supernatural, though I was surprised to notice about halfway through that my library had labelled it as “Horror.” I definitely would not put it in that category.
For years, Tracy’s family has run a successful dogsledding business and Tracy’s father has competed in multiple Iditarods. However, things have taken a downturn since Tracy’s mother died in a hit-and-run accident the year before. The business is failing, and her father has had to sell off a number of their dogs. Tracy is having trouble handling it all, especially because it was her mother who truly seemed to understand Tracy’s impulses—to run wild in the woods and to hunt, trap and kill—as well as her uncanny ability to work with the dogs. Tracy’s mother gave her simple but firm rules to follow such as “never come home with dirty hands” and “never make a person bleed” but now that she isn’t there as a sympathetic guide, Tracy doesn’t know quite what to do with herself or her emotions. After she is suspended from school, her father clamps down—forbidding her to train with the dogs or even enter the woods.
When Tracy is attacked in the woods by a mysterious stranger, she decides not to say anything partly because she wasn’t supposed to be out there anyway. Then, a second stranger, a young man named Jesse, comes to the house, looking for work, and Tracy is both intrigued and wary as Jesse becomes part of the family.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because one of the things I enjoyed about this novel is how things slowly unfolded—going in ways you might not expect. There’s a mix of themes here—coming of age, importance of family, the sacrifices one makes for love, and the danger of denying one’s nature. The last few chapters of this novel are still haunting me and that’s not too shabby for a debut novel.