Thursday, December 3, 2009

Throwback Thrusday: Minuk, Ashes in the Pathway

The idea of Throwback Thursday came from Tashi at Taste Life Twice. It's when I review books from my childhood or from 2007 and back. I read this book when I was younger and I decided to re-read it in honor of Native American Heritage Month (even though it's now over).

Minuk: Ashes in the Pathway by Kirkpatrick Hill
2002 Girls of Many Lands Series

Rating: 4/5

IQ "It was sometimes hard to believe things you were supposed to believe, so you needed help from other people. That was why people
wanted you to believe what they believed, and why they didn't want you to ask questions. [....] But the more people believed those things, the easier it was for you to believe them, too. And if you wanted to believe, you had to pretend a little. " pg. 95-96

I'm always a bit apprehensive about reading and reviewing middle grade books since I know that I have to be patient with younger characters and I'm not always, sometimes I just want to tell them to 'grow up'. I'm happy to say that Minuk does not make me feel that way. Minuk is a 12 year old Yup'ik Eskimo girl who lives in Alaska in 1890. While she doesn't act very mature, her young age is not a turn-off, it's endearing.

Something I love about reading middle grade books and younger is that you see the world through the eyes of younger characters and it takes you back, regardless of the time period. All children are naturally inquisitive and Minuk is no different. She's always trying to fight the urge to look at something she shouldn't or ask questions that she shouldn't be asked. She's especially curious about the white missionaries (the Hoffs, a husband, wife and son) who come to her village. The missionaries bring good and bad things with them. I loved reading some of the phrases Minuk uses to try and describe the items the Hoffs use and own.; "the line was a rope made of something white, not walrus thongs or seal-hide cords, and on that rope was hanging a pair of blue cloth pants and a sort of pink butterfly. The butterfly thing had lacings in the middle of it instead of a body, and strings hanging down on the outside of the wing parts. It turned and twisted in the wind until the strings were all tangled." pg.14 Can you guess what she's talking about? Highlight to read: A corset on a clothing line. I didn't get that at first, but after I read it and looked up a picture of a corset I understood why she would compare it to a butterfly!
I also enjoyed reading about the Yup'ik culture. Certain stereotypes prevail about Eskimos and while some are true, others are ignorant. No not all Eskimos live in igloos, yes they wear parkas (but maybe not all, I think they do though since it's so cold in Alaska!). In their culture it's polite to slurp your soup, drink, etc. because it shows that you enjoyed the food, but as you can imagine the white missionaries were appalled by the Yup'ik's 'rude' manners!

This is an excellent book for putting stereotypes to rest, since I think the Eskimo people are perhaps the most mis-understood and depicted in movies and books. The Yup'ik Eskimo people live in Siberia and western Alaska (this book was set in Alaska). The book is very detailed in describing their clothes (what they're made of, how much they wear, etc.), their way of life and their beliefs/their education. The Yup'ik are a bit demeaning of women as they are viewed as bad luck (unless they sew very well), but they also have more freedom than many white women since they can "throw away" their husbands (which is exactly as it sounds, a woman essentially divorces her husband if he does something that displeases her). Men can do that too and I found the term a bit amusing, but I'm glad they allowed it (the Hoffs are vehemently against this 'heathen' practise).

The characters weren't fully developed in the book, even Minuk's best friend, Panruk (her cousin) isn't described very well. All I know about Panruk is she is Minuk's cousin and shy.I think part of that comes from having a younger protagonist who doesn't feel the need to describe or observe in great detail the people she is around all the time. I wish the book was a bit longer, since I don't think the ending was tied up that neatly and since it's a stand-alone book, I would prefer to know exactly what happens. Minuk has to make a choice in the end and her choice is a bit surprising, but I realized that due to how she was raised and the beliefs of her people, her decision makes sense. The ending is sad (not written in a truly depressing way to make you cry, but sad nonetheless, for this happened to Native people all over the world) as *SPOILER. Highlight to read: Influenza kills off Minuk's entire family (her mother, father, cousins, aunt, uncle, grandparents, older brother) except her younger brother. It also kills her fiance's family. In the historical note it states that the Kuskokwim Yup'ik (which Minuk is) was reduced from 4,000 to 500 people due to influenza.*

All in all I recommend this book as a good introduction to the lives of Yup'ik Eskimos for young readers. It's not very fast-paced, but the culture and people are fascinating enough to maintain interest. Ages 11 and up. I loved the Girls of Many Lands series (a divison of American Girl) when I was younger and I hope to review all the books about poc in the series.


  1. This sounds pretty interesting! I'll have to check it out.

    If you're in the Chicago area - you should come to see Holidaze with the Debs on Saturday in the Borders in Bolingbrook - or they are at the Book Cellar in chicago that night.

    Here's a link:

  2. thanks so much for sharing this link as I always miss author visits (it will take me a while to get over the fact that I missed Justine Labralestier when she came to Chicago). I'll see if I can attend, although I believe there is only one poc author on the list.

  3. lol that's a very interesting way of describing a corset. You know, I remember this cover, and I think it's probably because I've seen it around my library back in elementary school... But I don't remember reading it, so that must mean I didn't pick it up as a kid. ._. Obviously I must rectify that error of mine. =D


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