Distant Enemy

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Overview

Growing up in a Yup'ik Eskimo village, Joseph struggles against changes that endanger his traditional way of life. Fueled by resentment of his long-absent father, his anger and hatred intensify until a brush with death forces him to confront all that threatens to destroy him.
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Overview

Growing up in a Yup'ik Eskimo village, Joseph struggles against changes that endanger his traditional way of life. Fueled by resentment of his long-absent father, his anger and hatred intensify until a brush with death forces him to confront all that threatens to destroy him.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set in a remote Alaskan village, this first novel fluidly communicates the bitterness of Joseph, a boy of mixed race, as he witnesses the erosion of Yup'ik Eskimo traditions by white men enforcing their "kass'aq rules." Unable to express his hostility toward his own Caucasian father, who left the family to "return to civilization," the 14-year-old strikes out at other "gussaks" who cross his path, most specifically the rangers, who set fishing restrictions, and the new English teacher, who understands little about Eskimo values. Each time Joseph releases his anger by acting defiantly, he becomes more entangled in a web of deceit and destruction. Ironically, it is Mr. Townsend, the English teacher, who rescues him at his darkest hour. Throughout, Joseph's widowed grandfather stands out as a voice of reason and compassion. The respected elder's ability to acknowledge the value of "gussak" contributions while retaining ancient beliefs encapsulates one of the most provocative themes of this insightful book. Vanasse creates a vivid portrait of modern Eskimo lifestyles, conflicts and fears while rendering a sensitive account of one teenager's coming of age. Ages 10-14. Mar.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Coming of age in a remote Alaskan village, a mixed-race boy lashes out in anger. In a starred review, PW called this sensitive first novel "a vivid portrait of modern Eskimo lifestyles, conflicts and fears." Ages 10-14. (Jan.)
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
Joseph has a two-ton chip on his shoulder. Most of it has to do with his absent white father; the rest with the remainder of the white world he has to deal with as a half Yup'ik Eskimo. We watch as the fourteen-year-old's anger builds into a rage he can't control. Scorned fishing regulations lead to other damage, and ultimately, almost to his own death. Vanasse's well-written first novel is painful, but only because she's writing about a culture going through painful throes while trying valiantly to hold on to something of its own.
Children's Literature - Donna Freedman
This quietly powerful young-adult novel takes place in a Yup'ik village in southwest Alaska. The pain and confusion of its 14-year-old protagonist make a nice metaphor for the larger, more permanent changes afflicting his subsistence community. Joseph Benchley hates his white father for deserting the family, and more than anyone else in town he rails against the evil, interfering ways of the kass'aq. After pent-up rage leads him to vandalism, he must deal with the devil - a white schoolteacher - to make reparations. Joseph's grandfather is better able to integrate white and Eskimo ways; he lives traditionally yet sees no reason not to use an outboard motor. He also sets his grandson straight about the purity and romance of pre-contact life: "Don't be fooled by your imagination... Our life was good, but it was also hard." Young readers outside will think it's still pretty hard, since Vanasse sketches the rhythms of village life realistically. Home-smoked fish does make satisfying eating, but carrying out graywater in a blizzard is nobody's idea of fun.
The ALAN Review - Jeffrey S. Kaplan
Here's something new. This is a smart coming-of-age novel about a fourteen-year-old young boy who is part Yup'ik Eskimo and part white. Joseph is angry - angry at his white father for abandoning his family; angry at the many changes brought to his Yup'ik Eskimo village by the white man; and angry at his new kass'ag (white) teacher. To Joseph, any kass'ag is his enemy. Joseph's anger boils. He slashes the tires of the fish and game troopers' airplane to protest their restrictions to his traditional ways, and he lies to protect himself. Living in a remote southwestern Alaskan village, however, makes keeping secrets impossible. Soon, his frustration mounts, leading to a brush with death and a coming to terms with himself and his changing world. In clear, straightforward prose, Deb Vanasse has written a tale of loving and loss, of constancy and change, and of survival and redemption. This novel is particularly recommended for high schoolers.
VOYA - Marian Rafal
Joseph is an angry man. Angry at his white father for abandoning his family. Angry at the kass'aq (white) restrictions being instituted in his Yup'ik Eskimo village. Angry with the new kass'aq teacher, Mr. Townsend, for knowing the secret Joseph is trying to hide. Joseph also is battling his own private wars. He is determined to maintain his people's ancient culture despite the growing influence of the west. Through it all, Joseph denies that he, himself, is the product of two cultures, Eskimo and kass'aq. Growth and maturation come slowly to Joseph. Caught vandalizing the fish and game troopers airplane, frustrated at the lack of fishing and hunting, Joseph spreads a hurtful rumor about Mr. Townsend. As his life begins to unravel, Joseph runs off in frustration. Forgetting lifelong lessons of survival, he falls through the ice and barely pulls himself out of the frigid water. The hated Mr. Townsend carries him to safety. With the realization that all kass'aq are not the enemy, Joseph begins the long, twisting road to inner peace. In a moving letter to his father, Joseph admits that he is not sure he will be able to fully forgive his father for leaving, but now, finally, he is ready to try. A strong, moving novel for readers just beyond Paulsen's Hatchet (Bradbury, 1987). VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P M (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Broad general YA appeal, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8).
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-A good adventure novel about a Yup'ik Eskimo/Caucasian teenager in a small Alaskan bush village. Joseph is forced to deal with growing up; restrictions from "outside" influences, such as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game; a long-absent Anglo father; and the difficulties of the clash of cultures. The boy holds to the "old ways," as portrayed through his close relationship with his Ap'a, his grandfather, and lashes out at the kass'aq or the "white man's" world of his absent father. As a result of his anger, Joseph creates hardship for himself, his friends, and his family, and it takes a brush with death for him to come to grips with his all-consuming rage. An understanding kass'aq teacher bears the brunt of much of the teen's anger, yet ultimately, Mr. Townsend provides the deliverance Joseph so desperately needs. The ending is a bit too pat, but Vanasse is right on target in her depiction of existence in a contemporary Alaskan village and her descriptions of the tundra are lovingly drawn. Joseph may be wise beyond his 14 years, but the issues raised here are current and valid. Students wanting to know more about this Alaskan Native culture and the issues facing Native People today would do well to read this first offering from a former bush teacher and Fairbanks resident.-Mollie Bynum, formerly at Chester Valley Elementary School, Anchorage, AK
Kirkus Reviews
To Joseph, 14, a Yup'ik Eskimo living in remote southwestern Alaska, the coming of the kass'aqs (whites) is threatening his people's way of life, and he is angry. The salmon the villagers depend on for winter sustenance are in short supply, so when the Fish and Game authorities ban fishing (to restore the salmon population), Joseph's rage leads him to slash the tires of the troopers' plane. That act of vandalism is witnessed by his new teacher, Mr. Townsend, whom Joseph hates as a matter of principle because he is kass'aq. When Joseph's first solo hunt for birds to supplement his family's food supply is inadvertently ruined by Mr. Townsend, Joseph retaliates by telling the villagers lies about the man—serious enough, Joseph hopes, to drive him away. Mr. Townsend confronts Joseph about his earlier vandalism and forces the boy to agree to make restitution to the authorities, which he does grudgingly. Only a brush with death induces Joseph to remedy all the damage he has done.

Joseph's emotional turbulence in the face of assaults from the outside world makes for a gripping story; Vanasse provides powerful commentary on the conflict of cultures as well as an inspiring story of a turning point in a young boy's life.

Kirkus Reviews
“Joseph’s emotional turbulence in the face of assaults from the outside world makes for a gripping story; Vanasse provides powerful commentary on the conflict of cultures as well as an inspiring story of a turning point in a young boy’s life.”
School Library Journal - Mollie Bynum
“Vanasse is right on target in her depiction of existence in a contemporary Alaskan village and her descriptions of the tundra are lovingly drawn.”
Publisher's Weekly - Reed Business
“Vanasse creates a vivid portrait of modern Eskimo lifestyles, conflicts and fears while rendering a sensitive account of one teenager’s coming of age.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781578332274
  • Publisher: Todd Communications
  • Publication date: 1/28/2004

Meet the Author

At age twenty-one, Deb Vanasse was dropped by a bush pilot on a gravel runway in middle of the Alaska wilderness. No roads, no houses, no cars, no people—only a winding brown slough and tundra spread flat as prairie. She had come not for adventure but to live, an isolating but enriching experience that inspired this novel. Between her mountain home and glacier-based cabin, she continues to enjoy Alaska’s wild places. The author of more than a dozen books for readers of all ages, she is co-founder of the 49 Alaska Writing Center.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 22, 2013

    I received this book in exchange for an honest review. i picked

    I received this book in exchange for an honest review. i picked up this book just because of the blurb and i must say i am not disappointed!! loveed the book through and through. looking forward to read more books by the author.




    Cover-page: 3/5




    Characters: 4/5




    Story line: 4/5




    Concept: 4/5




    Story line: 4/5




    Language: 4/5




    Overall: 4/5

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