Review by Deborah K. Frontiera
The Home Wind is an engaging story of two boys, one white and one Native American, who must find their way through the difficulties of life on the road to becoming “men.” It is set during the 1870s in the logging camps of the Fox River near Seney, Michigan, and just north of Menominee, Michigan, in a sawmill town. Jamie Kangas struggles with the guilt of feeling responsible for his father’s death. Gray Feather, angry at his White father for deserting his family, staggers into the logging camp nearly frozen and starved. Jamie takes Gray Feather to his mother, the camp cook, for help and the two become friends.
Jamie’s life as the camp helper is not easy—long days filled with serving meals, washing dishes, taking care of the horses, and any other drudgery the camp boss assigns. Some loggers delight in tormenting him because he is too small and weak to fight back. Gray Feather’s life has not been any picnic either and he faces the additional obstacle of being a “half breed”, cast off by the White world. Once Gray Feather has recovered, he works with Jamie on all the “helper” chores. Jamie begins to learn Ojibwa culture from Gray Feather in stolen moments throughout their days. He admires his friend’s strength and wisdom.
The author weaves the backstory of both boys through action and dialogue, with impeccably researched details. A natural skeptic, I checked some of them myself: a reference to the “tooth fairy” and to the presence of a woman—Jamie’s mother—in logging camps. The author was spot on with both references. The author also switches between the two boys’ points of view in a way that is easy for young readers to distinguish and follow. Her descriptions of the scenes and action make a reader feel as if they are right there in the middle of it all.
The boys’ first “man-making” adventure together comes when the camp boss has the two of them go to Seney for supplies, which are running low near the end of the winter. Jamie sees firsthand how his friend is treated in the White world and the dangers to the two of them from people trying to steal the camp money and then the provisions. Gray Feather comes to the rescue in both instances.
Once spring comes, Jamie’s mother remarries one of the logging camp men who has always been kind to Jamie. The family heads to Menominee and from there to a sawmill town, taking Gray Feather with them. The author puts readers right there on the steamer, pitching about in the waves of a strong wind as they head for Escanaba and then Menominee. I felt their seasickness just reading it.
Gray Feather’s inner conflict and resolve to have revenge on his father—whom he has learned is in that area—comes to the surface. Jamie must decide how to help his friend, keep to what he knows to be right, and then be able to let Gray Feather go his own way. Both find their “home wind”, or purpose in life, in the process. The height of the action comes as a wildfire rips through the sawmill town. Readers can’t miss the symbolism found throughout the book and a wonderful way to learn about the past at the same time. This book should go far, and not just with young audiences. A great discussion guide can be found at the end of the book for classroom, homeschool, or adult book club use.
Gnarly Woods Publications, L’Anse, MI,
Pub. Date: 2021
List Price $17.95
middle-grade children’s novel