Written in Stone
Pearl Carver is the daughter of whalers. Her people, the Makah, depend upon the whales that flourish in the waters off the Olympic Peninsula. But after one disastrous hunting trip, Pearl’s father does not come home. European whaling ships are depleting the whale populations, and Pearl must face not only the loss of her parents but also the potential loss of her tribe’s livelihood. Should she abandon the old ways and get a job in town, like her cousin Susi? Should she sell her family’s most treasured heirlooms to an art dealer from the East who will only use them to exploit her people? Or can she find a way to mingle old traditions with new ideas?
Roseanne Parry spent years teaching at a Native American reservation on the Olympic Peninsula, and she brings great sensitivity to a culture all too often patronized or romanticized in children’s literature. Parry portrays the shifting cultural currents of an era when Makah young people might perform their tribe’s ancient handicrafts of weaving and basket-making while speaking of Charlie Chaplin’s latest cinema show in the same breath. The book also has a strong sense of place, beautifully evoking the landscape of the Pacific coast. For all this, though, the plot line snags at times, and Pearl sometimes jumps from one resolution to another without clear focus or motivation. Some parts – including the framing narrative taking place in 1999 – seem a little too neat and tidy, to the point of feeling contrived. Even if the seams may show at times, though, this is still a rich cultural patchwork of a book.