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Unseen Companion    by Denise Gosliner Orenstein order for
Unseen Companion
by Denise Gosliner Orenstein
Order:  USA  Can
HarperTempest, 2003 (2003)

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* *   Reviewed by Melissa Parcel

In the wilds of Bethel, Alaska, in 1969, sixteen-year-old Dove Alexie is in jail, and then suddenly disappears. During his short stay, he is observed by two local girls. Lorraine Hobbs, who cooks meals for prisoners, finds a note from Dove asking for her help. Annette Weinland sees him during her weekly volunteer visit to the jail. Annette is the depressed daughter of the local minister, saddled with taking care of her young siblings after her mother abandons the family. Circumstances make it difficult for her to admit that she even saw Dove, much less to disclose the other incident she observed. Yet when Lorraine tries to find out what happened to Dove, local law enforcement denies he was ever there, and she runs into numerous roadblocks.

Thelma Cook and Edgar Kwagley are two orphaned Yup'ik (Eskimo native) young people who attend a boarding school with Dove. They admire him from afar, and then lose touch when he assaults a teacher and is sent away. When the four adolescents embark on individual quests to discover Dove's fate, they learn about themselves in the process. As much a lesson about Alaska as it is a mystery and an engrossing character tale, Unseen Companion touches on many themes relevant to both adults and teens. The author's knowledge of Alaska, its native people and customs shines through every sentence (and a glossary at the end includes defintions of Alaskan words).

At first glance, I didn't see how this book could appeal to teens, thinking they would have difficulty relating to the time period. But human nature doesn't really change. The young people in the novel stretch their wings, trying to find their own identities, their place in the world around them. Chapters alternate between each of the four main characters, so that the reader gets a sense of individual personalities and motivations. Their growth is apparent throughout, as each comes to recognize faults and prejudices and works to overcome them.

If you're searching for a book that is a bit out of the ordinary, yet thoroughly engrossing, pick up Unseen Companion. It's a fascinating look at a culture unfamiliar to many, but one we all should know more about, and an intimate look into the lives of several young people.

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