The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich
The story is set in 1852 and follows the journey of an Ojibwe family as they travel to find a new home. The opening chapters are my favorite as Omakayas, a 12-year-old girl, and her younger brother, Pinch, find themselves hurdling over some treacherous river rapids in their canoe. They are in such peril that they don’t even stop to consider how quickly they are moving away from their family or how they will get back to them once they land on shore, if they land on shore. However, the memegwesi, or water spirits, are there to guide them. On their adventure, Pinch finds a porcupine that will become his pet and change his name forever to Quill.
These opening scenes are only a precursor to the hardships that Omakayas and her family will endure on their journey, including a kidnapping by an enemy tribe, a betrayal by a trusted family member who steals everything they own, and loss of a loved one. Though it may sound bleak, and for awhile, it is, Louise Erdrich manages to balance the heartwrenching moments with beauty, love and humor.
I highly recommend this book to mature young readers, especially those who are interested in American history.