Friday, November 19, 2010

Guest Post: My Sister The Moon and the Ivory Carver Trilogy

Today's guest post comes from Julie, who can be found at or on Twitter at @himissjulie.  Enjoy!  Melissa

My Sister The Moon and the Ivory Carver Trilogy

Mother Earth Father Sky, My Sister The Moon, and Brother Wind, by Sue Harrison

When I was around thirteen or fourteen I was at a loss about what to read. I’d read all of the assigned reading for school (finishing weeks early, of course) and I wasn’t in the mood to re-read any of my mom’s Stephen King books or any of my dad’s issues of Analog. I’d just finished all of Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children* books and was hungry for more, but, sadly, Jean Auel’s glacier’s pace of writing and publishing was determined to thwart me. So imagine my delight when one day at the bookstore I saw a cover that trumpeted “Sue Harrison outdoes Jean Auel!”

I plucked the book from the shelf and turned it over to see if it would satisfy my deep craving for prehistoric facts, survival, and romance:

"An abused and unwanted daughter of the the First Men tribe, young Kiin know the harsh realities of life in a frozen land at the top of the world. In an age of ice nine millennia past, her destiny is tied to the brave sons of the orphaned Chagak and her chieftain mate Kayugh--one to whom Kiin is promised, the other for whom Kiin yearns."

It was love at first blurb, and as I dove into the story, it reminded me in many ways of several of my favorite books, including Island of the Blue Dolphins, Julie of the Wolves, and, of course, the Clan of the Cave Bear books that it was being compared to.

In retrospect I realize that Harrison’s novels are much more well-written than Auel’s. She made quite an effort to have the tone and style of her writing match what, from her research, indicated the spoken cadence of the Aleut people. She wove details about day to day life into the narrative seamlessly, and made each character’s voice distinct and engaging.

The main character of the second two books in the trilogy is Kiin, a young girl who is abused and unwanted by her father. Refused a name--and thereby a soul--until she finally reached menarche, Kiin spent the first part of her life enduring beatings and dreaming of being wife to Samiq, one of the chieftain’s two sons. She knows that she is promised to one of Kayugh’s sons, and hopes it will be Samiq, for he is the one who is always kind to her and tends her wounds after her father has beaten her. The other son, Amgigh, sometimes taunts her along with her younger brother, Quakan, who has been taught that all of his failings are the fault of his greedy older sister, who should have died, and instead took his birthright from him.

When Kiin begins to menstruate, proving she has a soul, she must be named, but her father continues to insult her and his tribe’s chief by giving her a name that means “Who?” Kiin, however, doesn’t care, and is simply glad to have a name and soul, which brings her that much closer to becoming wife to Samiq.

Like in many young girls’ lives, menstruation is the beginning of many sweeping changes in Kiin’s life. With her name and new status and the potential for a new family, Kiin begins to assert herself in small ways. She carves a piece of ivory into a shell so she can keep it from her father, who fancies himself a carver but in reality only mutilates the materials he carves. This small but powerful secret adds to Kiin’s growing self-confidence, and in the other books her carving--and singing--are the talents that keep her alive during harrowing times.

The books alternate the point of view character quite a bit, so boys could be talked into reading these titles as well. Samiq is a character that I can see many boys identifying with and admiring, and we get several chapters from his perspective, so keep that in mind when hand-selling the books.

My Sister the Moon and Brother Wind are the volumes that explore and resolve the love triangle (quadrangle at times) in Kiin’s life, and take her from an uncertain, unwanted girl to a brave and competent young woman. The journey is full of rich details regarding the food, clothing, and traditions of the various peoples, and there is a great balance of action, romance, and lyrical writing that will keep most teens engaged. There is a touch of supernatural to the stories as well, including two otherworldly sisters who speak in prophecies and several spirit animals and objects who speak to various characters at different times.

The first book of the trilogy, Mother Earth Father Sky, focuses on Chagak, and ends with the birth of Kiin. Chagak is a teen during much of that book, so it also has some teen appeal, but I don’t think nearly as much as My Sister The Moon; however, teens that read Kiin’s story will probably want to read that book as well.

These books might possibly be a tricky sell to teens, but I think readers who enjoy survival books, romances, books with strong female characters, stories about abuse (including sexual abuse and incest), and historical fiction could be talked into giving these a try.

*I could--and might--write a whole ‘nother post on these books. Man, they were mind-blowing to re-read as an adult!

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