From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8–In 1897, arctic explorer Robert Peary took six Polar Eskimos to New York City to be part of a living exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. In a series of flashbacks, the youngest "specimen," eight-year-old Minik, tells the tale of his journey to New York and the fate of his father, Qisuk, called "Smiler." The wide-eyed boy experiences candy and circus visits, happily unaware that he is a curio for public display. When his father and three others die of pneumonia, the exhibit is closed and Uncle Will, a benevolent museum curator, becomes his new guardian. Chapters alternate between the naive young Minik and the mature teenager who has trouble coping with the bizarre circumstance of his youth and feelings of isolation. He is devastated to learn that he has been betrayed by Uncle Will, who has allowed Qisuk's skeleton to be macerated and kept in the museum as an artifact, rather than properly buried. The first-person point of view works well as Minik ages, and vivid dreams keep him tied to his family. By juxtaposing chapters, the depressed and cynical teen contrasts sharply with the innocent child brought up in a trusting Eskimo culture. Minik is an unforgettable character, and issues of racism and scientific arrogance will not be lost on readers.–Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY
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Gr. 7-10. In this wrenching first novel, based on true events, Lerangis gives voice to Minik, an Eskimo boy who, along with his father and several other villagers, was delivered to New York by Arctic explorer Robert Peary "in the interest of science." First they are put on display at the Museum of Natural History; then consumption strikes: "Four days, four eskimos. Dead, dead, dead, dead." A kind family takes the orphan in, but as he matures, his sense of displacement intensifies--especially after his efforts to claim his father's remains and obtain passage back to Greenland are repeatedly thwarted. Minik recalls his story in flashbacks, describing his first impressions of "civilization" (skyscrapers are "igloos stacked high like icebergs"), then shifting to his adolescence, when his resentment toward Peary took deep root. A somewhat rushed finale brings the novel's now-19-year-old hero to the brink of despair and, finally, to a point of equilibrium. Although the nonlinear narrative may prove disorienting to many readers, the incisive emotions are unforgettable--all the more because they are culled from historical fact. Jennifer MattsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved