Blessing's Bead is a mix of historical fiction brought into the modern day through a familial connection across the years and miles of Alaska. The first section of the book tells the story of Nutaaq who travels with her family to an annual trading fair. While there, Nutaaq’s sister meets a Siberian boy and is married. Before she sails for Siberia, she promises Nutaag that when they meet at the next fair, she will bring a beautiful blue bead for each member of their family. Nutaaq never gets to see her sister again as the flu epidemic of the early 20th century changes their course in history.
The second section of Blessing's Bead tells the story of Blessing, a girl sent to live with her grandmother in northern Alaska while her mother battles her personal demons in modern day Anchorage. Raised away from the Inupiaq culture, Blessing feels alone and different. But when Blessing finds a blue bead, she learns the story of her great-grandmother, Nutaaq, and comes to understand what it means to be Inupiaq.
The story’s strength lies in it’s metaphorical examination of the harsh setting in relation to the realities of the characters. It is an atmospheric treat to visit Alaska through the eyes of both Blessing and Nutaaq. The author further assists with her addition of an author’s note on cultural and linguistic accuracies at the end.
Blessing's Bead is a good read, but it really should have been two books. The characters in either section are strong enough to hold their own story and they desperately needed more development. Although the ending creates a beautiful connection between the generations, and I suspect this is the reason the author chose to tell the two stories in one, it could have been accomplished as companion books.
The lack of character development is always a deal breaker for me when choosing books for young people. For the right student, this is a beautiful story, but the average ten-year-old will have some difficulty without the character connections.
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Genre: Historical & Realistic Fiction
Age: 9 - 12
Themes: Multicultural, Coming of Age, Strength of Character
Date: November 2009
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