In 1848 in Barrow, Alaska, a young Eskimo boy witnesses a rare sight—the birth of a bowhead, or ice whale, that he calls Siku. But when he unwittingly guides Yankee whalers to a pod of bowhead whales, all the whales are killed. For this act, the boy receives a curse of banishment. Through the generations, this curse is handed down. Siku, the ice whale, returns year after year, in reality and dreams, to haunt each descendant. The curse is finally broken when a daughter recognizes and saves the whale, and he in turn saves her. Told in alternating voices, both human and whale, Jean Craighead George’s last novel, finished by her children Twig and Craig, is an ambitious and touching take on the interconnectedness of humans, animals, and the earth they depend on.
Here's what Kirkus Reviews had to say:
Jean Craighead George's last novel, completed by her children Twig and Craig, traces a 200-year cycle of devastation, change and recovery in Arctic waters. In 1848, Toozak, a Yu'pik lad, is awed to witness the birth of a bowhead whale with a distinctive chin marking, naming it Siku. But the privilege becomes an obligation years later, after he unthinkingly sets off a general slaughter by pointing a Yankee whaler to a pod of whales. He is told by a shaman that atonement will require protecting Siku until the whale dies or rescues either him or one of his descendants. Over the next two centuries, as bowheads are hunted nearly to extinction, then become a protected species and slowly recover, the whale and descendants of Toozak sight one another once or twice each generation. The structure makes for a particularly episodic plot but provides readers with a panoramic view of the area's natural and human history. To get away from anthropomorphism in the undersea chapters, George invented a system of squiggly lines to represent the whales' own names and other calls. 2048 brings a final encounter (research suggests that bowheads can live that long) and also a wistful, wishful picture of an Arctic culture that has returned to its old roots. A fitting envoi for a writer whose most enduring tales of nature and survival are required childhood reading.