In June 1942, 14-year-old Kiska Baranoff leads a peaceful life with her family on one of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. They live a traditional life; she collects seagull eggs for her mother while her father and brother hunt seals. Kiska wants to be a great hunter, but girls are not allowed to hunt. When US ships arrive and forcefully evacuate all the residents—claiming it is for their own good and allowing them to take nothing but the clothes on their backs—Kiska’s life changes forever. Taken to Admiralty Island, the Aleutians are forced to live under constant guard in an abandoned cannery far from their home, the ocean, and their way of life. Under the tutelage of an elder shaman, Kiska defies tradition and learns a way to help her people survive.
Based on historical events and written for readers ages 10-14, Kiska, shines a much-needed light on a shameful and little-known episode in US history. Smelcer’s descriptions of Kiska’s island, traditions, and way of life are beautiful, the loss of which is made all the more painful when contrasted with his descriptions of the internment camp where Kiska and the other Aleut people are held. His style is quiet and literary, making the racism and cruelty the Aleutians endure more palatable for young readers. Kiska is a bold and believable heroine; a character who will stay with readers long after they have finished reading her story. This would make an excellent companion to Aleutian Sparrow by Karen Hesse.