Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 14 to 17
- Grade: 9 to 12
Jack is 14 going on 15. For the past seven years, he and his younger brother and sister, and his mother and father, have lived in a remote cabin on the Athabasca River west of Edmonton. It's the late 1930s, and the river is almost as wild and untamed as it was before humans began settling along the riverbanks.
The reason for the Whyte family living there has a good deal to do with Malcolm, Jack's father, and what we would call his PTSD after serving in World War One. He has never really recovered from the trauma of his experience in the trenches, and his solution has been to sweep his family into the wilderness and remain there, living off the land. But now Jack is of an age when he figures he has had enough of this life, particularly since his father is not the most understanding of parents.
Trouble is, as Jack makes his move to leave the family by canoeing away down the Athabasca, something goes wrong on the first day and he breaks his arm, and has to stay stranded, alone, unable to make any more progress. Malcolm comes after him, and somehow father and son begin to communicate in ways they never have. All of this is played out against the backdrop of a powerful river where nature is dominant and where a family manages their lives alone in the bush, with little or no reference to the world beyond.
About the author
Harry Kleinhuis is a former pastor and teacher who lives near Parry Sound, Ontario. This is his second published novel.
"Kleinhuis's cinematic prose makes the wilderness come alive, with every canoe trip a thrilling quest. The Athabasca River, which could be considered a major character in the novel, is at times a cruel, dangerous villain, but it also plays the role of healer, transporting Jack and his family to a new beginning.
"Kleinhuis's ability to dive deep into his characters' emotional worlds allows readers to see them in all their complexity. . . Athabasca is a memorable and exciting adventure set against a believable, well-researched landscape of a century ago."
— Quill & Quire
"Readers partial to a wilderness survival tale will like this novel. There are lots of authentic river crises, trapping scenes, hair-raising hunting incidents, a wolf chase and more. It's clear the author knows his stuff and has spent time in the untamed wilderness. . . Given that it takes place between the Depression and World War II, there's interesting historical perspective. And not a single paragraph shies away from showing how difficult a life in the wilds is, especially with an authoritarian, volatile father suffering from World War I shell shock. . . It offers true backcountry adventure and characters you definitely come to care about. . . Athabasca offers a bracing story immersed in a wild, beautiful setting with good pacing and realistic action — and the reward of an uplifting ending.
— CM Magazine