Tala can't wait to be thirteen; then no one better tell her what to do. The Welfare Officer is knocking on her door again and her father isn't home to answer. Tala only has a few hours to find her missing father before she and her brother, Dason, get placed in a foster home.
Her quest brings her to secluded woods where she discovers that a group of bear poachers are responsible for her father's disappearance. Her adventures bring her in contact with the legendary woodland characters: the pipe-smoking frog-like people and the giant ferocious black bird. Can she survive the night alone in woods alive with hungry bears and angry hunters? Will she be able to find her father before the hunters do?
This short novel for young adults is a lovely read. I read the book in one sitting. Very rapidly your sympathies with the spirited young heroine are established. Tala's reasons for following her father into the woods with her little brother are made clear, as is the justification for hiding from the family's nosey neighbour. But I also like how towards the end of the novel we are made to revisit one of Tala's decisions. I have a problem with novels for youngsters that portray children taking huge risks without questioning and thus making the reader think twice about copying the heroine.
I enjoyed the way the book wove Native American myth and legendary creatures into the story without going over the top into fantasy. We do not see the mythical giant bird, the culloo, nor do we see the little frog-like stone people, but we see a large feather, smell the pipe smoke. Tala prays to the spirits: Great Spirit of the Air, Great Spirit of Water, of Earth and of Sky, Please protect my father from any harm. But at the end of the day Tala and Dason must rely on their wits and understanding of the forest to save their father, not on magic.
The book is well plotted and paced, keeping the reader's interest to the end. Generally this is an excellent book and one I would have greatly enjoyed when I was a youngster. My one criticism is of the cover, which looks amateurish and doesn't communicate the lovely story inside.