Middle Grade Review: Whispering Alaska (Brendan Jones)



About This Book:

It’s been four months since their mother died. The twins and their father have moved from Pennsylvania to a small town in Alaska to be near extended family. Nicky and Josie find the wilderness mysterious and beautiful, and a much-needed refuge. The girls drifted apart somewhat during their transition, each dealing with grief in a different way. Now, as they settle into a new normal, they become involved in a community debate that threatens the very land they are growing to love.

For the local adults, livelihoods are at stake, and tensions are high. But it’s the young people who take the lead, especially newcomers Josie and Nicky, who find a way to speak up for what they believe, reconnecting with each other and with their father in the process—and, they hope, doing their mother proud. Will their heartfelt plea keep the peace and save the trees that have existed for hundreds of years?

Author Brendan Jones’s passion for Alaska shines through in this, his debut middle-grade novel. Indeed, Brendan’s day-to-day subsistence lifestyle in his own Alaskan community—a place he’s called home for decades—and his appreciation for young activists greatly inspired Whispering Alaska. The rich detail with which he describes the earth’s largest intact temperate rainforest will make readers wonder whether they too can hear the trees whisper.



*Review Contributed by Mark Buxton, Staff Reviewer*

Save the trees or save the town?
What worked:
The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the whole world, and this book addresses it head-on. The mother of middle-grade twins, Nicky and Josie, dies from the virus, so the father moves them to live with relatives in Alaska. The family falls into the middle of a contentious debate that will impact the future of the tiny, remote lumber and fishing village. The town economy has been devastated by the virus, even though no one has been infected, so the debate of commercial development versus preserving nature will end in a critical vote for the town’s survival.
Most of the story sounds like realistic fiction, but a speculative fiction angle is infused into it. Nicky’s cousin Clete informs her that the trees predicted she would arrive and save them. Talking trees? Nicky slowly accepts the fact that she’s able to make a connection with them and sense their thoughts. It’s not like they have a conversation, but she becomes aware of ideas that eventually help her resolve the problem. The author comes up with a very unexpected, creative resolution that makes almost everyone happy.
Despite being mirror twins, a conflict between Nicky and Josie has developed since their mother died. Josie has become bitter and angry, and her focus is on saving the Alaskan wilderness from deforestation. She’s a zealous advocate for nature and doesn’t have much of a filter for her thoughts. She lets her feelings control her voice and manages to offend almost everyone she meets. Some of her most hurtful comments are directed at her father. Nicky misses the twin who was also her best friend, and her attempts to reconnect with Josie don’t go well. However, Nicky must eventually embrace some of her twin’s personality in order to get things done.
What didn’t work as well:
After a while, Josie’s negativity gets tiresome. Nothing makes her happy, and she never stops talking long enough to consider anyone else’s thoughts or feelings. However, her character performs an important role in the plot, as her passion toward the problem evokes equally passionate feelings from other characters.
The Final Verdict:
Save the trees or save the town? The book presents the real-life, emotional conflict between nature and people trying to survive. Characters from both sides of the issue are represented, and the result is a gripping story that can be enjoyed by all, especially lovers of wildlife

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