REVIEW - BACK TO THE KLONDIKE
Harris, Yvonne, Back to the Klondike. Tutshi Publishing, Whitehorse. Softbound. 157 pages. Three maps. $7.95.
There's a bit of a problem here. You know a great deal about river rafting, particularly the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers, two of the mighty waterways that flow from the Yukon into the Gulf of Alaska, and would like to write about this for teen-agers.
That can be done, but you also want to write about the Southern Tutchone and Tlingit Indians who lived in the Interior and along the coast respectively and place this story during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. Since no one was rafting down rivers for pure enjoyment during the gold rush, it takes some imagination. Aha! Time travel. Let's get to the writing.
So our heroine, Julianna, age 14, is part of a group of Canadian students going down the Alsek on a ten-day voyage with their Outdoor Education teacher. It's a more difficult trip than any have made before, but their instructor is a stubborn man who ignores warnings about the danger of Turnback Canyon and sets off. They do get into problems and suddenly Julianna hits her head on a rock and wakes up a hundred years ago, saved by a young Tlingit, Split-the-Waves, and his friend, Salkusta, on their way down the Alsek to trade in Skagway. This is a bit confusing to the reader, as the journey seems, shall we say, tortuous, considering the distance. From the Alsek River's debouchment at Dry Bay to Skagway is around 185 miles. However, a village is found in Dry Bay, and then the young people, who by now include a Tlingit friend, Jenny, hike overland to Klukwan. Before this happens, Julianna has been instructed in sewing, tanning, weaving, and proper Tlingit etiquette during her several weeks in the Tlingit village, and loves and is beloved by her instructors.
At Klukwan they pick up one of the great war canoes and paddle on over to Haines. As the Tlingits have told Julianna women cannot be in a canoe with men, she has to tag along in a little dugout canoe. Among other problems, Salkusta's love is gone. Some scoundrel sold her for $5,000 to a white man, and now Salkusta wants to paddle out into the ocean and drown. Split-the-Waves and Julianna rescue him and then convince him to join them in chasing the villain into the Yukon in hopes they can regain his love.
This is a fun book to read; a briskly moving plot and a great regard for the sensibilities of the Tutchone and Tlingits alike. There are only two things I would change. Harris thanks the Tutchone people in her acknowledgments. Although these were Interior Indians only, she obviously knows far more about them than she does the coastal Tlingits. There has never been any prohibition of women from traveling with men in canoes; it was and is routine. In fact, George Vancouver encountered women traders and later women warriors steering canoes in Lynn Canal in 1794. So - next time do more research on Tlingits.
The other major problem is the cover. It looks like the winner of a Middle School art contest. The Yukon has talented artists; do find one.
Other than that, this is a great book for the teen in your life. Julianna and friends' travel on the Alsek come alive. Harris knows how to describe the thrills of rafting a major river. Here they are, after entering the rapids:
"Julianna paddled in the bow and called out the direction. As the craft lifted into the air, Julianna leaned forward and braced hard against her paddle. The back of the boat submerged in the foam and for a few minutes they thought the boat would flip. But they surfaced and pushed against the foaming water, sending the canoe forward and out of the diagonal waves.
Salkusta's fate was in the hands of the paddlers. Julianna and Split-the-Waves paddled well together. Both had the ability to react instantaneously to the huge waves, bracing as the boat tilted to one side or the other, steering the craft directly into the current if it began to veer to the side, powering through the forward surges of water, and slowing the boat down as they moved up a gigantic wave.
There was a set of rollers, and then the boat slipped into the quiet waters." Whew!