Unseen Companion

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Overview

In the late 1960's, in the small community of Bethel, Alaska, a beaten teenager named Dove Alexie is in prison. One day, he mysteriously vanishes, and curiously, there is no mention of hi s arrival or departure on the prison records. Four young people in Bethel tell their stories, and the narrative circles around Dove ? their unseen companion.

Told with humour and insight, Unseen Companion spins together four unique voices that capture the ...

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2005-01-04 Paperback New 0060520582 Paperback edition.

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Overview

In the late 1960's, in the small community of Bethel, Alaska, a beaten teenager named Dove Alexie is in prison. One day, he mysteriously vanishes, and curiously, there is no mention of hi s arrival or departure on the prison records. Four young people in Bethel tell their stories, and the narrative circles around Dove – their unseen companion.

Told with humour and insight, Unseen Companion spins together four unique voices that capture the complexities of human existence and the search for one's place in the universe.

o Based on the author's own experiences living and doing social work in fourteen Alaskan bush villages, which left Orenstein uniquely qualified to write the kind of loss and hopelessness presented in this novel.

o An intriguing and layered narrative structure, unique voices, and a brilliant over–arching metaphor that sums up one's place in the universe make this a unique and resonant book that will stick with readers for years to come.

Ages 12 +

In rural Alaska in 1969, the lives of several teenagers come together while trying to find out what happened to a sixteen-year-old boy who is missing.

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Editorial Reviews

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"Older readers who want to further explore the realm of Jean Craighead George’s Julie will find this an eye–opening journey"
ALA Booklist (starred review)
“A sensitive observer and a compelling storyteller, Orenstein offers a novel that is both touching and harsh.”
Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)
“Orenstein’s quiet but powerful book will speak especially to readers who are outsiders or who feel culturally displaced.”
ALA Booklist
"A sensitive observer and a compelling storyteller, Orenstein offers a novel that is both touching and harsh."
The Bulletin for the Center for Children's Books
“Older readers who want to further explore the realm of Jean Craighead George’s Julie will find this an eyeopening journey”
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“Older readers who want to further explore the realm of Jean Craighead George’s Julie will find this an eye–opening journey”
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“Older readers who want to further explore the realm of Jean Craighead George’s Julie will find this an eye–opening journey”
ALA Booklist
A sensitive observer and a compelling storyteller, Orenstein offers a novel that is both touching and harsh.
Center for Children's Books
Older readers who want to further explore the realm of Jean Craighead George's Julie will find this an eye-opening journey.
Publishers Weekly
"The author delves into the harsh realities of life-both natural and manmade-in a small Alaskan town during the summer of 1969, as four lonely teens deal with loneliness and isolation," wrote PW. Ages 14-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
On the surface, the worlds of a fashion-obsessed white girl, an equally white preacher's daughter, and two Yup'ik teens seem as far apart as the miles that separate them in the Alaskan bush of 1969. Dove Alexie, a mysterious sixteen-year-old boy, doesn't really know any of them, yet he is the one who unites them. We first meet the irrepressible Lorraine, a girl who spends her spare time memorizing beauty tips from magazines and makes a little money by delivering meals to the local jail. It is at the jail that she gets a glimpse of a supposedly crazed inmate, a hauntingly attractive boy who doesn't look old enough to be there. Annette, a home-schooled daughter of the town's conservative minister, volunteers at the jail, where things don't seem quite right to her, either. Thelma and Edgar, both Yup'ik ("authentic people," natives of Alaska), meet Dove at a boarding school where Dove disappears as quickly and mysteriously as he appeared. Circumstances bring Lorraine to meet Annette, Thelma, and Edgar, each of whom has a tiny bit of knowledge about Dove. Lorraine sets out to prove that Dove existed-and to find him. The author has created an engaging picture of small-town life that is sometimes funny and sometimes heartbreakingly honest, all set in Alaska's wide-open world of possibilities during the year when man first walked on the moon. Readers will hear Lorraine's marvelously humorous and spunky voice long after finishing this wonderful, satisfying novel. 2003, Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, Ages 12 up.
— Linda Johns
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Four Alaskan teens live separate lives in 1969 but are connected by one common thread-they all cross paths with a boy named Dove Alexie. Lorraine Hobbs gets a glimpse of the battered and beaten Dove when she delivers home-cooked meals to prisoners at the local Bethel jail. Part-time jailhouse bookkeeper Annette also sees the abused teen but officials deny he was ever there. As the daughter of an oppressively strict minister, she longs for freedom and eventually finds autonomy helping Lorraine expose the jailhouse corruption. In flashback chapters, Edgar, a Yup'ik teen, encounters Dove in his boarding school but dismisses him as a "mixed-blood" loser, and classmate Thelma eyes him as a handsome, brooding stranger. All four are misfits with compelling stories of their own that alternate by chapter. There is an insightful look at the discord among Native groups and Gussaks (whites), with the inclusion of Alaskan lore. The book wavers between being four great narratives and a thinly veiled plot driven by Lorraine's quest for justice. A multifaceted, compelling glimpse into Alaskan bush life.-Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This gritty, tightly written Alaskan realism, set in 1969, tackles harsh conditions and whether a sense of self is possible despite them. Two Gussak (Caucasian) and two Yup'ik teenagers, each with an impressively distinct voice and unique pain, take turns narrating in first-person. The four stories intersect over the existence of another teen, a mysterious boy who seems to have been beaten and abandoned: is Dove Alexie real, though, and why aren't there records of him, and why did he disappear? Poverty is the bedrock of numbing depression, racism (running in multiple directions between Gussak, Yup'ik, Indian, and Aleutian), rape, and suicide. A colloquial syntax featuring verbs in present tense provides unusual flavor, as do the complex and fully realized characters, both primary and secondary. Substantial, intermittently spiritual, and very sad: glimmers of hope appear for the two Gussak kids, but only despair seems possible for the two Yup'ik, whose perspective has dwindled away by the end. (glossary) (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060520588
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/4/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Age range: 13 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.12 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Denise Gosliner Orenstein is the author of three novels and currently holds the position of Director, American University MFA Program in Creative Writing in Washington, D.C. She is also a writing mentor for the PEN American Center Prison Writing Project and a participant in the PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools Program. She lives with her two daughters in Washington, D.C.

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Table of Contents

Part 1
Lorraine Hobbs: Bethel, Alaska; Spring 1969 3
Annette Weinland: Bethel, Alaska; Spring 1969 36
Thelma Cooke: Mt. Edgecumbe High School, Japonski Island, Alaska; Fall 1968 57
Edgar Kwagley: Mt. Edgecumbe High School, Japonski Island, Alaska; Fall 1968 96
Part 2
Lorraine Hobbs: Bethel, Alaska; Spring 1969 125
Annette Weinland: Bethel, Alaska; Summer 1969 159
Part 3
Lorraine Hobbs: Bethel, Alaska; Summer 1969 189
Thelma Cooke: Bethel, Alaska; Summer 1969 210
Edgar Kwagley: Bethel, Alaska; Summer 1969 214
Part 4
Lorraine Hobbs: Bethel, Alaska; Summer 1969 229
Annette Weinland: Bethel, Alaska; Summer 1969 261
Part 5
Lorraine Hobbs: Bethel, Alaska; Fall 1969 287
Epilogue 351
Glossary 355
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First Chapter

Unseen Companion

Lorraine Hobbs

Bethel, Alaska
Spring, 1969

This is the spring we all hear about the wild man locked up in the Bethel city prison. "He ain't got no fingernails," I tell my mama soon as I walk in the front door from buying a strawberry parfait ice-cream pop at the Tundra Shack. "They say that savage, crazy man up at the prison ain't got one single fingernail. Turns out he pulls them all off one by one, smack in front of Marshal Nicholsen."

"And why, pray tell, would anyone do a fool thing like that?"

I can see Mama ain't buying none of it. And ain't it just like her, always wanting to hear more before coming to any judgments at all. Plain dull and boring to always be so calm, if you ask me. She just sits there with a mess of sewing on her lap, not even giving me the courtesy of looking up for a single minute.

"Don't ask me," I answer, sitting down at the kitchen table next to her, "but sure don't seem likely that someone's gonna fabricate up something strange as that."

"Oh, no?" Mama chuckles and chews off a knot from a tangled-up piece of yellow thread. "Folks 'round here can stir up a can o' worms quicker than you can say 'land of the midnight sun.' I wouldn't necessarily believe all the chatter goes 'round town."

Mama can be downright aggravating sometimes, never listening to what nobody says about nothing. She's just used to seeing things her own way and probably always will. But I gotta admit it's been hard for her, right from the start, seeing as Mr. Willie Resse Hobbs leaves her after two years of marriage.

"Ain't nothing but a sorrowful man," Mama says whenever his name is mentioned, "but let sleeping dogs lie; never do care to find out whatever happens to that crazy SOB."

So I don't even get to meet him, my daddy, though it sure feels strange calling him that; I never do exactly know how I'm to refer to that man. Goes and leaves my mama with one little baby in Dorchster County, South Carolina, and if it isn't for Grandpa Tulley, Mama's own daddy, I just know where all of us would be right now. Grandpa Tulley (I don't remember much of him) has a job up Prudhoe Bay, working on that dang pipeline. When he sends for mama and me, but by the time we make it up north, he's going to meet us in Bethel to get some summer cash working the barges, the old man done up and dies. Just like that.

"When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on," Mama says, sitting in this old plywood shack with honeybuckets instead of a proper outhouse. "There's work to be had in this little town, and I'm of the mind to get it." So we end up just staying right here in Bethel, and my mama, she works herself to the bone, holding two jobs to make ends meet, doing cooking for the jail and the receiving home (the big trailer where the orphan kids live) plus taking in sewing from anyone too lazy or rich to do it themselves.

Poor Mama, she does let herself go, tying back her stick-straight graying hair always in the same bun, always wearing the same blue jean overalls or brown corduroy pants and some old plaid flannel shirt, an apron always around her waist, needles or straight pins in her mouth. Her face ain't nothing to brag on neither (never a fleck of Max Factor's lipstick or pressed powder, don't you know), kinda square boned about the jaw, her forehead lined deep, her nose wider than it should be, and her lips lopsided as if she's been chewing at a corner of the top, the lower one sticking out more than a smidgen. But when you look into her eyes, and they're hard to resist, you just forget about everything else and get dunked deep into Mama's strange spell. She has a way of staring at you hard so that it's impossible to look away, and then them giant, golden pupils start spinning.

There ain't two ways about it -- there's just no one in this here world can pull the wool over my mama's two whirling eyes, and I'm smart enough to just about stop trying.

But I do hate to say it, Mama ain't one to do herself up pretty, and her apron sure has to be let out some every year -- seems like she gets wider and wider. And she don't seem to mind a little bit, laughing and smacking her tummy as if she's almost proud. When I mention that it looks like she picks up a little, she just grins and says, "More of me to go around, some lucky man's gonna get a real pile of woman to hold on to. Sometimes I feel uglier than a mud fence after a seven-day rain, but I sure am one hundred percent real woman."

I just laugh right along with her but do wish she wouldn't talk low class like that when anyone else's around. Appearances aren't everything, I know that, for heaven's sake, but it's important for a girl to keep herself up as best as she knows how. I'm also of the mind that it's essential for a person to improve on herself in order to really get anywhere in this world, and no matter what blows life sends you ("How to Take Charge of Your Wardrobe," Today's Teen), you just got to make the best of it. And I do fully intend to start by enhancing my natural good looks ...

Unseen Companion. Copyright © by Denise Orenstein. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2003

    THE BEST BOOK EVER!

    This book was amazing! I felt as if knew each character personally. Author, Denise Gosliner Orenstein, is a genius in her art! A MUST READ!

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