rating: 4 of 5 stars
Okay, I’ll confess – I put off reading this series because it sounded boring. It sounded earnest and dull. I picked up a copy of the first book, The Birchbark House and it’s been sitting on my shelf, unread, for ages. Something else always sounded more enticing. But when The Porcupine Year showed up in School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books, I picked it up. And I’m glad I did.
It’s always an interesting experiment to jump into a series in midstream – this is the third book, and I believe Erdrich is planning at least one more. Although it took a bit to sort out all of the characters and their relationships, I was never confused because each character has such a distinct and well-rounded personality. In fact, I became intensely curious about some of the background characters, like the father, and now I plan to go back and read the earlier books to see what I missed.
Although Omakayas, the main character, is twelve, the book could read a bit younger. This is not to say that Erdrich spares us any of the heartbreak the characters experience, but the style is lovely and simple and direct. I felt myself to be in the world of the characters, and I wanted to spend more time with them. While bigger historical events exist in the background – or as the motivation for the journey to a new home – the real focus is on character. The illustrations are a hoot (I assume they were done by the author since I couldn’t find a credit) and help bring things to life. It also seems to fill a real gap in historical fiction, without feeling didactic in the slightest.