Sunday, April 13, 2014

Between Two Worlds by Katherine Kirkpatrick

Between Two Worlds
by Katherine Kirkpatrick
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Release Date: April 8th 2014
 photo addtogoodreadssmall_zpsa2a6cf28.png photo B6096376-6C81-4465-8935-CE890C777EB9-1855-000001A1E900B890_zps5affbed6.jpg


On the treeless shores of Itta, Greenland, as far north as humans can settle, sixteen-year-old Inuit Billy Bah spots a ship far out among the icebergs on the bay--a sight both welcome and feared. Explorers have already left their indelible mark on her land and its people, and a ship full of white men can mean trouble. 
The ship carries provisions for Robert E. Peary, who is making an expidition to the North Pole. As a child, Billy Bah spent a year in America with Peary's family. When her parents went to America years later, they died in a tragic scandal. Now, Peary's wife, daughter, and crew are in Itta to bring him supplies. Winter comes on fast, and when the ship gets caught in the ice, Billy Bah sets out to find Peary. The journey will imperil her life, and that of the man she loves.
By turns lyrical and gripping, Between Two Worlds is an impassioned coming-of-age novel set in a land of breathtaking beauty and danger, where nature and love are powerful and unpredictable forces.

by Katherine Kirkpatrick

Today we have a guest post by Katherine Kirkpatrick whose young adult novel Between Two Worlds was released this week by Wendy Lamb Books/ Random House. Katherine is here to talk about the love story in the book.

Sixteen-year-old Billy Bah, or Eqariusaq, is used to wife swapping among her people. When her nineteen-year-old husband loans her to young sailor Duncan, the experience isn’t totally out of the ordinary for her. But none of the other wives in her Inuit (formally “Eskimo”) village have been traded to a white man in exchange for a knife and a block of wood. Since there are no trees this far north in Greenland, wood is incredibly valuable. Hunters use it to fashion handles for their harpoons and runners for their sleds. In fact, Billy Bah thinks her husband has made them a really good deal. 

She discovers she likes being traded to Duncan. He wants to talk, asks her silly questions, and makes her laugh. After a while, she becomes impatient to do what she’s there to do. She realizes he’s a virgin, which both surprises and entertains her. Like most Inuit girls, she was married at fourteen. He’s gentle. And funny. She enjoys being with him. She even tells him the trade goods her husband likes best, to ensure that Duncan will bargain for her again. 

Almost from the start of Between Two Worlds, the reader learns that white people have been taking advantage of Billy Bah since she was ten, when Mitti Peary, the wife of Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary, brought her to America as a babysitter. Now, five years after Billy Bah’s year abroad, Mitti returns to the Arctic with her daughter, Marie. Once again Billy Bah falls into the role of childcare provider, while also serving as a translator and negotiator for her people, and a seamstress of fur garments so that the underprepared white explorers do not freeze to death when the winter comes. 

Billy Bah is trusting and she gives generously. One of the strengths of the novel is that Billy Bah does not view herself as a victim. She loves Marie as if she were a little sister. And Billy Bah certainly enjoys her amorous nights with Duncan. Even so, Billy is eventually pushed to her limit by white people’s demands. Through all of the resulting difficulties, however, Billy Bah’s story isn’t a cliché victim story. Duncan truly falls in love with her and she returns his affection, which adds some sweetness and quite a lot of dimension to a young woman’s experience that might otherwise be viewed as a case study in abuse. While most of the book is based on historical events, the romance with Duncan is fictionalized. I think it’s the aspect of the book that will most appeal to teen girl readers, fully drawing them into 1901 and the foreign world of Arctic Greenland. The key to writing historical fiction is to put the past into the present, to bring out themes that a modern-day audience can relate to. The theme of romantic love is powerful and universal, and sexual maturity is a very vital part of adolescence in every culture.

My wonderful editor, Wendy Lamb, helped me to hone the romance in Between Two Worlds. In earlier drafts, an older character named Officer Sutter, or Grease Beard, alternates with Duncan in receiving sexual favors. So in addition to her avaricious nineteen-year-old husband and her handsome and easygoing young lover, Duncan, Billy Bah had to contend with the old, ugly Grease Beard who mostly wanted to take nude photos of her. That really was too much! Wendy advised me to cut those Grease Beard scenes and focus instead on Duncan. She used the word “romance” to describe Duncan’s relationship with Billy Bah before I had even thought of the pair in those terms. 

Wendy also had me tone down aspects of traditional Inuit life that modern readers might find off-putting. I deleted the gory chapter in which Billy Bah’s people slaughter walruses, and downplayed the cultural norms of uncombed hair, smelly, unwashed bodies, head lice, and body lice. It’s there in the book, but it’s just tweaked in such a way that explanations are offered. The Inuit had no running water so in order to wash they had to melt snow using rare and precious seal oil as fuel. The grease on their bodies protected them from having dry, chapped skin in their frigidly cold climate.

In my take on a true-life incident, Mitti Peary gives Billy Bah a bath on the ship just prior to her trade to Duncan. Unbeknownst to Mitti, she puts beautiful, young Billy Bah into a dangerous situation amongst the all-male crew. It’s a good thing I didn’t mention that Inuit girls in that time period usually washed their hair with urine - how sexy is that! 

Dana Carey, Wendy Lamb’s assistant editor, had me rewrite that bath scene. Originally Billy Bah sat crying as Mitti yanked at Billy Bah’s hair with a comb. In the rewrite, Billy Bah takes the comb from Mitti and finishes the snarly job herself. Over five rewrites, Billy Bah became more assertive, more mature, and less historically Inuit in terms of personal hygiene. Meanwhile, Mitti Peary softened. She’s not an egregiously bad antagonist, but a woman who wants what she wants and has no trouble justifying her actions. 

Between Two Worlds is an edgy book, and sixteen-year-old Billy Bah’s unapologetic enjoyment of sexuality outside of marriage and within the context of wife-trading will no doubt rile up some parents and educators. I hope, however, that most readers will see the love story as an asset to the novel. Just as the book’s many descriptions of nature evoke the beauty of the Arctic, balancing out some of its forbidding harshness, the love story adds elements of respite and pleasure to Billy Bah’s tumultuous life. She grows increasingly aware of the lies the white people have told her, and the ways in which she has been manipulated. At the same time, Duncan’s love is true and sincere; she can hold onto that knowledge of truth, which is also very satisfying for the reader. Stories that touch us are stories that have truth and meaning. 

Hope you will enjoy Between Two Worlds.

Katherine Kirkpatrick is the author of seven fiction and nonfiction books, including The Snow Baby, a James Madison Honor Book and Mysterious Bones, a Golden Kite Honor Book and a Washington State Book Award Finalist. Her eighth title, a novel, Between Two Worlds, will be released in April 2014 by Wendy Lamb Books, Random House. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Seattle, Washington.

No comments:

Post a Comment