If I am reading my research correctly, Louise Erdrich’s The Birchback House was a 1999 National Book Award Finalist. I know this book was on my shelf for a long time, but I was saving it for the Snubbed category which is no shame as it went up against some AMAZING books. She went up against Kimberly Willis Holt (winner. Yay! LOVED the book/author), Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak (OMG! What a book/author!), Polly Horvath (did not read Trolls but she is very good) and Walter Dean Myers (I have loved him since I first read him…I sadly never got to meet him). My copy is a little stained, but still special as it was signed by the author.
It is also special as there is an interesting story on the pages. The kid in me was thinking had I read this between the ages of 8 and 12, I would have flipped over it. It is a “Little House” with Native Americans characters. The adult sees some holes: things work out too nicely (even with the sad parts), it is obvious who the baby at the start of the book will grow up to be and how the world is slightly idealized.
With that said, the story is loosely based on Erdrich’s own history and she tells it with a young Ojibwa girl on a Lake Superior island set in 1847. It is just a story about a family and how they love, live, grow and even die. They are just like you and me. They have fights with and envy their siblings. They play with friends and cousins. They have special relationships with parents, grandparents and the larger community. They are nice people, goofy people and grumpy people. Maybe we do not go ice fishing, dance the rice, “talk” to bears or have a pet crow, or deal with smallpox, but we can relate to the events and activities.
Erdrich does not demonize the white world, though she is also not really a fan, either. Or at least some of her characters are not. She shows the reality of the times without going into too much detail that is “rough” for the younger reader. She shows the way of the Ojibwa with respect and love. It is a spiritual book.
This book may not be one of my favorite books of all time, but I am glad I finally found it and read it.