Bright Dawn is an eighteen year old Eskimo girl. Her mother named her for the bright morning upon which she was born. Black Star is a sled dog – part wolf, part Siberian husky. He was named for the black star which decorates his creamy white forehead. Together they are a team.
After Bright Dawn’s father, Bartok, survives a nearly fatal hunting accident, he moves their family to the larger city of Ikuma. There, Bartok begins training for the famous Iditarod dogsled race. It is the grandest of all dog races and its thousand mile length requires the competitors to be tough, brawny and very highly-conditioned. Bartok spends hours every day training his dogs for the race, but three weeks before it is scheduled to begin his sled tips over and breaks his leg. His sponsors do not think that he will be healed in time to participate, but the dogs are fully trained. Someone must drive them. But who?
Bartok offers Bright Dawn as a substitute. After some deliberation, the sponsors agree. So, on the day of the race, Bright Dawn is at the starting line with Black Star harnessed to the lead. Will Bright Dawn and Black Star have the endurance to run the race? Are they really prepared to survive the vicious weather and aggressive wildlife? And will they win?
While not a Christian, Black Star demonstrates great moral sensibilities. During the race, she stopped over and over to help fellow racers out of predicaments, sacrificing her own chances of winning when she could have kept going. Also, when one of her sponsors finds a way to attach a new dog to her sled (the fresh dog would give her an advantage), she unhitches him, because adding fresh dogs is against the rules.
As Eskimos, several of Bright Dawn’s acquaintances (including her father) believe in superstitions. For example, Bartok tells of a dream that he had which he believes foretells the results of their hunting season. He later has a vision that Bright Dawn will be allowed to ride in the Iditarod race.
When Bartok goes missing, Black Dawn ties a piece of rope across the ceiling of her home. Supposedly, if the rope goes limp then her father is in great danger. If it sags completely that means that he is dead. She also hangs up a pair of boots. If the boots sway back and forth, the hunter still walks; if they stop moving, he is dead.
After Black Dawn and her family move to Ikuma, the begin attending church.
There was also a church where the Reverend Cartwright told us about God and the Devil, about heaven and hellfire. I got mixed up listening to him, because I had always believed in the God Sila.
Sila is a mystery. He lives far apart from us, way off in nothingness. No one has ever seen him. No one has ever heard him speak. But he watches to see that we do not harm the world we live in – the air and water, our friends the animals, the land and sky. If we do harm them he will become angry and all of us will vanish from the earth like mist in the morning. [pgs. 19-20]
I found it interesting that the main focus of this god Sila’s affection is the environment rather than man. Evil, to this god, is abuse of the environment. If this sin is committed, man is harshly punished.
Bright Dawn’s friend and companion during the race, Oteg, believes in a force called the Raven. Strangely enough, he alternately blames the Raven for evil circumstances and prays to him to solve their problems! He references the Raven quite as often as you and I might mention God and is obviously devoted to him.
Towards the end of the story, Bartok hands an amulet to Bright Dawn. She hesitates and he asks her in surprise whether she no longer believes in the charms of her people. She replies that she does not believe in them as she used to. While I do not believe that superstitions and charms are a correct religious system, I found Bartok’s remark to be poignant.
“You have lost your faith while going to the white school,” he said accusingly. [pg. 95]
Yup. That’s what happens when you submit your children to the teaching of those you disagree with!
Black Dawn mildly contradicts her parents on a few occasions. They are situations where Black Dawn is entitled to having her own opinion.
Conclusion. Interesting, but not necessary, Black Star, Bright Dawn tells the story of a persevering girl and her partnership with an unlikely companion.
Review © 2012 Laura Verret