When twelve-year-old Talia—still reeling from the recent death of her mother—is forced to travel with her emotionally and physically distant whale-researcher father to the Arctic for the summer, she begins to wonder if the broken pieces inside of her will ever begin to heal. Like her jar of wishes, Talia feels bottled up and torn. Everything about life in Churchill feels foreign, including Sura, the traditional Inuit woman whom Talia must live with. But when Sura exposes her to the tradition of storytelling, she unlocks something within Talia that has long since been buried: her ability to hope, to believe again in making wishes come true.
A rich and poignant story about opening up—to new people, to second chances, to moving forward with life.
Praise for Waiting for Unicorns:
"Debut author Hautala's writing in this first-person narrative is lyrical and evocative; her descriptions of the landscape are vivid. Written by an author to watch, this quiet story of loss and healing will appeal to thoughtful readers." --Kirkus Reviews
"This poignant story demonstrates that opening up to new experiences, places, and people can enrich life even in the aftermath of tragedy."--School Library Journal
“[An] affecting exploration of grief and the hope that can come through the love of good friends. With spellbinding descriptions…this story will stay with readers.”--Publishers Weekly
“Contemplative writing…a thoughtful examination of loss and hope.”--Booklist
"Hautala mines the frigid setting for some exquisitely wrought metaphors of sadness and grief, and Tal’s reflections on her situation are lyrical and yet still appropriate, given her age. Readers who were touched by Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7s will find this to be a similarly moving tale."--BCCB Reviews
"Middle school readers will embrace Talia and her new family in the Arctic and perhaps receive the message about the power of stories to heal."--VOYA Reviews
"This is a well-written tween novel that deals with growing pains, grief, and loneliness."--School Library Connection
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
In early May, we moved.
It was the first time I’d ever left home for someplace else, and, of course, Dad said it’d be great.
“It’ll feel like home in no time,” he said.
I didn’t believe him, but I didn’t tell him that, because it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Home is only home when the people you love live there, and the only person I had left to love was Dad. So I guess home was anywhere he was. Which was fine and easy to say while everyone and everything was familiar. But whether I wanted to go or not, we were leaving the familiar behind. Even the normal end-of-school routine would be different. I’d finish seventh grade far away from the rest of my class and turn in the last of my assignments by mail.
Before we left, Dad and I packed for three days straight. We taped over the seams of a couple-dozen cardboard boxes, then shipped them away on a cargo plane, and drove north. We were leaving behind our house in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, which was far enough north already in my mind, considering it was only about a five-hour drive to the Canadian line. But one mile-marker at a time, we went right on over the border toward Churchill, Manitoba.
I’d never crossed the border before. It’s all very official and serious. Men and women in uniform with stern faces and clipped questions, and the Canadian flag flying high over the border station made me nervous. Guilty. Like maybe the stuff we were taking into Canada might be illegal or something. But all I had in my pockets was some Chapstick and a candy wrapper. Our duffle bags were just full of clothes, and I guess we must not have looked too suspicious because they didn’t ask us to get out of our vehicle for a search or anything.
The border patrol has an interesting job, I think. All the pictures they look at every day—how many driver’s licenses and passport pictures do they see?
The photo on my passport wasn’t great. I looked too excited about getting my picture taken. My eyes were wide and there was a surprised look on my face. I looked like I thought my whole life was bound to be one big unexpected thing after another. But I don’t like change too much, or the unexpected, and it was frustrating that Dad somehow thought all this was a good idea in the first place. Nobody drags their kid to the arctic for the summer. But my Dad was, and it was surprising how fast my entire life suddenly felt unsteady. Like one big gust of arctic wind could sweep it all away.
Of course, the border patrolman didn’t care about any of that. He just asked for my name and matched it to the name printed on my identification. And if he noticed the funny look on my face at all, he probably just thought the lady at the passport office had been quick with her snap-shot finger.
“What are you doing in Manitoba?” the patrolman asked.
“Whale research,” Dad said. And I was thankful he left it at that, because once he got started talking about whales, there’d be no stopping him.
The patrolman waved us through, and I turned around in my seat, watching as the gate lowered behind us. The border station shrunk smaller and smaller as we drove. The road pulled us away from that invisible border line separating the United States from Canada—separating home from everything else. And when I finally turned back around in my seat, it felt like we were going in reverse because I’d been watching the road move away from us for so long. That’s what leaving is like. Watching things slip away from you until your insides ache and everything feels backwards.
Dad and I drove until we reached Montreal, where a man waited to buy our truck.
“We won’t be able to drive past Thompson, Manitoba,” Dad said. “No one can, because the roads actually end. And there’s no point in having a truck you can’t use.” He’s practical like that.
After Thompson, the roads leading north just stop, giving way to Arctic peat bogs and ocean inlets. I’d spent the past few weeks poring over the pictures I’d found online, trying to see it all in my head—something I could barely imagine. I tried to picture the bog lakes and stretches of Tamarack trees. In the fall, the trees would trade their green summery clothes for needles the color of saffron—a spice Mom kept in a small glass jar in the spice rack.
But winter was still in charge where we were headed. In the Arctic, things stay cold a whole lot longer than other places. It’s too far north to thaw when farther south everything is getting on with the business of spring.
The Montreal man who bought our truck seemed nice enough, though I don’t remember very much about him. The only thing that really stuck in my mind, was his hair. It sprouted wildly out of his head, and once in a while he ran a hand through it, trying to calm it down. But it wouldn’t be calmed and kept falling into his face where it got mixed up in his eyebrows. There was even hair coming out of his ears, and poking up through his dirty flannel shirt where he’d left it unbuttoned, and though I tried to ignore it, out of his nose, too.
I didn’t think I’d care who bought our truck. But when it came right down to it, I did. I guess I’d envisioned people like us having the Ford and somehow, I couldn’t make this man and whatever family he might have fit that picture. It made saying good-bye to the old green truck even harder than I thought it’d be. Strange, how you can get attached to something that’s done nothing but carry you from one place to the next.
The Ford had carried me to school on snow days when Mom and Dad didn’t trust the buses.
It had carried us to Dairy Queen on hot summer nights. Dad would let me ride in the back, just as long as I sat down and leaned against the cab. He would take the back roads and roll the windows down so that his country music could pour out into the summer air. Mom would sing along, letting the wind carry her voice. She always opened the back window so I could sing along, too, and she held my hand through the space there, like she was afraid I’d blow away in all that warm summer wind.
And of course, the Ford took us to the hospital and back, over and over again, when Mom got sick.
But we left the Ford behind, along with all those memories, and boarded a plane that would bring us closer to dad’s whales. We would have to take two of them: a big plane from Montreal to Winnipeg, and a smaller one from Winnipeg to Churchill.
And as our plane bounced once before lurching into Canadian skies, I wondered what would be carrying me around next.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Waiting for Unicorns:
"Debut author Hautala's writing in this first-person narrative is lyrical and evocative; her descriptions of the landscape are vivid. Written by an author to watch, this quiet story of loss and healing will appeal to thoughtful readers." Kirkus Reviews
"This poignant story demonstrates that opening up to new experiences, places, and people can enrich life even in the aftermath of tragedy."School Library Journal
“[An] affecting exploration of grief and the hope that can come through the love of good friends. With spellbinding descriptions…this story will stay with readers.”Publishers Weekly
“Contemplative writing…a thoughtful examination of loss and hope.”Booklist
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This the best book ever! Its awsome! GO NARWHALS