“Be a man that people can count on,” 14-year-old Sevy Anderson’s father tells him. Because Sevy’s father broke his leg in a sawmill accident, the boy must quit school and earn money for the family among rough and tumble lumberjacks and river rats who harvest the white pine forests of Wisconsin.
White Pine begins where every good story starts: On the cusp of an irreversible, life-changing event for the protagonist.
Told in the first person from Sevy’s point of view, readers are privy to the teen’s inner emotions of fear, pride, remorse, affection and homesickness. With a deft, light hand, author Caroline Akervik, through Sevy, describes aspects of lumbering and lumberjacks that give readers confidence that this is a reliable, accurate depiction of life as a Northwoodsman in days gone by…which means readers can settle in and enjoy the story.
Roget, a giant of a lumberjack, objects to Sevy’s presence in the lumber camp. “He’s is a boy. He has no place here.” Problems escalate when Sevy’s forgetfulness causes what becomes known as “the incident.” Sevy vacillates from carrying the heavy burden of paying for his father’s dream to own a farm, to the simple joys of hearing bells jingling on the horses, and eating salt pork and biscuits after a long day of dangerous, hard work in the numbing cold.
The tension, while varying in intensity, never goes slack. The story doesn’t veer from Sevy’s struggles to live up to the command his father gave him and his own desire to be a true Northwoodsman, in this coming-of-age novel.
Readers who love Gary Paulsen’s young adult coming-of-age stories set in the wilderness will treasure White Pine, as will fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. No warnings about content are needed for this wholesome, credible, engaging story. White Pine is a book that parents and other adults can read to young children and give to pre-teens and teens to read on their own. As with the best of this genre, adults can enjoy the story as well. The book belongs in school libraries and on family bookshelves. And more importantly, in the hands of middle grade readers.
White Pine: My Year as a Lumberjack and River Rat is published by Melange Books LLC’s young adult imprint Fire & Ice.
Review by Beth Fowler author of Ken’s War: When teen hormones and culture shock collide.