Gary Paulsen (Young Adult Fiction)
During the winter, Russel Susskit and his father live in a sixteen by twenty government house in a small Eskimo village. Come summer, both will move to the fish camps. For now, Russel wakes up every morning to his father’s smoking-induced cough; the absence of his mother, who left with a white trapper; and the growing unhappiness he feels when he thinks of his current life and, more importantly, his future. Russel wants to be more, but when he looks ahead, he only sees less. Russel’s father sends him to the local shaman, Oogruk, who owns the last team of dogs in the village. Oogruk tells Russel that he needs to discover his own song and returning to the old ways of his people may help. Driven by a recurring dream and a team of five great red dogs, Russel heads north searching for answers and a song.
Dogsong is divided into two parts: Russel’s training with Oogruk and his solitary journey north. It is the second part of this book that is disappointing and not particularly compelling. We find ourselves caught in a seemingly tedious storyline loop: run, eat, dream, repeat. The story drags like a sled maneuvering through slush and Paulsen fails to provide enough action to hold either the reader’s interest or attention. A sudden story twist near the end arrives far too late to save what could have been an interesting boy-versus-nature adventure story.
One notable bright spot was Oogruk’s advice to Russel about life and living. “It isn’t the destination that counts,” Oogruk said. “It is the journey. That is what life is. A journey. Make it the right way and you will fill it correctly with days. Pay attention to the journey.” All too often we find ourselves consumed or distracted by the things that have little to no effect on our life or circumstances. In hindsight, we often come to realize that it is the small things that have the biggest impact. If we take an old shaman’s advice and simply look up, look around, and pay attention, perhaps we too can find the words to our own song.
* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com