Kirkpatrick Hill,
Minuk: Ashes in the Pathway
(Pleasant, 2002)

Minuk: Ashes in the Pathway is one of the books in the series Girls of Many Lands and is from the American Girl section. It focuses on a 12-year-old girl, Minuk, in an 1890 Yup'ik Eskimo village in western Alaska. Although this character is fictional, the story is based upon the actual events as they were recorded in the journals and documents of persons that were among the Yup'ik during this time.

There is a wonderful section at the end of the story, "Then & Now: A Girl's Life, Yup'ik Alaska." It tells about the lifestyle, clothing, culture and history of the Yup'ik. It contains photographs of girls in 1884 and the present, clothing, needle cases, a mother with child, girls in a mission school and the Russian Orthodox cathedral at Sitka.

This is Minuk's story of her people's interactions with the first missionaries in their area. When Minuk's family returns from their hunting trip, they learn that a family of whites have arrived in the village and built a home. They plan to build and operate a missionary school in the village.

The people have mixed emotions about this development. While some are eager for the benefits that the whites bring, others do not want them tampering with their beliefs and traditions. However, Yup'ik rules require that they be courteous to the strangers and at least listen to them when they request to speak.

Minuk's grandmother and others from the village go to work for Mrs. Hoff, doing domestic chores and sewing, while she does the missionary work and cooks. Minuk is exposed to the English language and with the assistance of the Hoff's young son, David, she learns to speak it. The more she listens, the better she becomes. She wants to attend school and learn to read but is forbidden because she is a girl. Mr. Hoff explains that no man would want to marry her if she were educated.

When the nurse arrives, she and Minuk quickly bond. Minuk is more inquisitive than most girls and tends to ask questions when she is supposed to bow her head and remain quiet. She has an internal war going because she really wants to become a good woman who will make her husband proud ... but she really wants her questions answered.

Minuk's peaceful life is shattered when the missionaries interrupt ceremonies and cause grief among the villagers; then an epidemic strikes the village and entire families begin dying.

This is a wonderful story that teaches about the daily life, seasonal routines and deep spiritual beliefs of the Yup'ik Eskimos. Author Kirkpatrick Hill executes strong character development and incorporates enough diversity among the characters to allow almost any reader to identify with some portions of the story. Her writing is highly descriptive and incorporates all the senses, especially when she gets to the fermented fish (you will smell the stench). The narrative adds enough tension to keep the reader thoroughly engaged, but provides moments of respite through levity or heartwarming incidents.

Hill grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska. She attended Syracuse University for a double major in English and education. She returned to the Alaskan bush to teach school for three decades. Her other books include Winter Camp, Toughboy and Sister and The Year of Miss Agnes.

Minuk: Ashes in the Pathway is a great book for the pre-teen to early teen girls of the world, especially those who like to ask "why?"

book review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

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