Brooklyn never knew her father. But when Vince James, a down-on-his-luck, Tlingit Indian shows up and pleads for Brooklyn's mother to help him, her mother unwittingly agrees to go with him and then disappears. Brooklyn, with a strange group of friends that include Tony, a Tlingit boy she once loathed, an Alaskan sourdough named Luther Calhoun, and Bingo Bob, who is considered the town drunk, sets out to find and rescue her mother from a person bent on vengeance.
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Fredrick Cooper's fifth novel, THE GROTTO, is a beautifully written tale of mystery and adventure set in coastal Alaska. In tiny Chatham, Alaska, thirteen-year-old Brooklyn Whiting doesn't get along with some of the kids at her school, in part due to the ineptitude of her white teacher, an import from New Jersey, and her exclusion from the Tlingit community on account of her estrangement from her elusive father, Vince James. Brooklyn is observant and intellectually curious, following the development of an eagle chick high up in the mountains, for instance. She wants to learn more about the world beyond Chatham, but that's difficult when her internet access is limited to two public computers at school and a community center. Their lives are upended when Vince James resurfaces, involved with an illegal otter poaching operation. He tries to store otter pellets in a deep cave, but, unbeknownst to him, the cave is an epicentre of a rabies epidemic. When his co-conspirator dies and possibly infects him, Vince turns for help to Flo, getting her into more trouble than she'd anticipated. Brooklyn sets out to find her mother. She gets help from various characters, some better allies than others, but her determination drives the plot. Cooper tells this riveting story from multiple points of view, shifting kaleidoscopically between Brooklyn, Flo, Vince, and even the evil poaching magnate's perspectives. it's all a bit melodramatic, with obvious villains and a winsome, plucky heroine, but melodrama has long been a component of some of the most engaging mysteries. Around his characters, Cooper builds a busy, fascinating world, dispensing knowledge about everything from illegal poaching to Tlingit mythology and the development of baby eagles. Like Victor Hugo, Cooper coasts between action episodes that end with cliffhangers and informational interludes, the placement of which tends to increase the suspense. Brooklyn is also the kind of heroine that will give young adult readers a touchstone within a novel that isn't explicitly targeted at them, and a girl who realizes her abilities to the fullest extent that her frustrating social circumstances allow. Refreshingly, there's nothing trendy or corporate-feminist about Brooklyn. She's not a nascent independent woman, because no one in Cooper's attentively built fictional world is independent of society or nature. However, she wants a future that honors her potential and her heritage. Cooper, formerly, a civil engineer, is of Salish and Lower Chehalis descent and when not writing, is a master woodcarver specializing in indigenous techniques. I would have liked to know more about the everyday contemporary life of Cooper's Alaskan young adults, but that's a small quibble. THE GROTTO is definitely worth a deep dive.