April 11, 2016

The Hill

by Karen Bass
Pajama Press
256 pp.
Ages 12+
March 2016

Karen Bass, the award-winning author of Graffiti Knight (Pajama Press, 2013) and Uncertain Soldier (Pajama Press, 2015), takes writing flight with The Hill, a chilling tale of endurance in northern Alberta, blending a survival story with the supernatural of Cree legends.  It’s hauntingly gripping YA and I think it's her best story yet.

Privileged Jared Frederickson is going to spend a mandatory three weeks with his dad when his dad’s private plane in which the teen is travelling from Edmonton to Yellowknife crashes in a mosquito-infested swamp in the northern Alberta bush.  He and the unconscious pilot are discovered by Cree teen, Kyle Badger, who was nearby at their moose camp with his Kokum (grandmother), Moshum (grandfather) and little brother Sam.   Jared and Kyle, both fifteen, are so different in their attitudes, physiques, and family that it’s not surprising that they disagree as to the best course of action.  Sadly, Jared is determined that if he climbs to the top of the adjacent hill he could get cell reception and call for help.  Though Kyle thinks they should stay at the accident scene, especially since his Kokum had always warned him that “no Cree, no person evers walks on that hill” (pg. 20), he follows Jared knowing that his Kokum would be ashamed of him for not helping the boy.

So begins a treacherous journey both onto the ominous hill and into the supernatural world.  After a night on the hill where, of course, cell reception is non-existent, the two return via Kyle’s notched-tree path to the swamp where everything is different: the jet is gone, the mosquitoes are gone, the swamp is smaller as in drier years, and there is a forest fire in the area.  Kyle is obviously freaked out–“Sometimes scared is the smartest thing you can be” (pg. 29)–though Jared, with his better-than-anyone attitude, ridicules Kyle for not knowing where they are.  Returning to the moose camp, the two see Kyle’s Kokum, as if behind a grey curtain of fog, praying for him and then warning them to run.  Kyle believes that they’ve entered the spirit world and, based on the stories he’s been told, that they’ve woken up Wîhtiko, the monster of Cree legends who craves human flesh.

The two boys must now work together, no easy feat for a spoiled rich kid who’d always gotten his way and knows nothing of the outdoors and for a hulky First Nations teen who refuses, admirably, to be a lackey to anyone but learned well from his grandparents of respect and integrity and perseverance.  Outrunning Wîhtiko is just the beginning of their foray into the supernatural world and one which they must survive if they are able to return safely to their own corporeal one without bringing harm to others.

In addition to a gripping action-rich plot of frightening circumstances, getting the voices of Jared and Kyle and the tone of the story right are Karen Bass’ greatest strengths in The Hill.  She balances the heart-pumping pace of a looking-over-your-shoulder chase with the antagonistic sparring between Jared and Kyle.  The two are so different in what they have, what they know, and who they are that it’s only fate in the form of a plane crash that could bring the two together. Though it is evident that Kyle has much to offer in the way of outdoors experience and familial grounding, Jared learns that he too has some value and can be integral in their escape.  Fortunately for them, and those who read this story, Karen Bass demonstrates that even the most of awkward of allies can achieve great things when they work together, whether it is to outsmart a blood-thirsty monster or finding your way home.


April 12, 2016

from 7-8:30 p.m.

author Karen Bass

will be reading and signing copies of

The Hill 

Owl’s Nest Books 
815A 49 Ave SW
Calgary, AB 
(403) 287-9557

 It's a great opportunity to get a signed copy and hear a reading of The Hill from the author who made it so frightening.

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