Winter Camp seems to be a sequel to the novel Toughboy and Sister which I have never read, and thus know nothing of. (Eek! I just ended with a preposition!)
When Natasha announces her intention to visit her trapping camp out in the middle of nowhere, Toughboy and Sister aren’t sure what to think. Sure, they’ve lived with Natasha ever since their parents died, but she’s just the littlest bit crazy sometimes, and besides, missing school all winter seems drastic.
The children slowly warm up to the idea and decide that perhaps it isn’t such a bad one. Not that they ever really had a choice; they were going whether they wanted to or not. But now, they will learn the ways of the old people, the ones who had to live before the modern conveniences of stores and canned goods came around. Will they be able to stand the elements? Will they bravely meet this test and work together for the sake of staying alive?
Winter Camp presented a very harsh life style, and while not gratuitously violent, recorded enough grotesque incidents to give this hardened Henty reader a few shivers. These incidents included (but are not limited to) a description of how Natasha’s little brother died (by falling into a boiling pot), the time her mother killed a grouse and tried to make Natasha eat the *STILL WARM* intestines, and how her family would sometimes eat blood soup.
Natasha is a trapper and makes Sister come with her on several occasions. The descriptions of the captured animals are pitiable – the blood, the pain, the mangled fur and crushed bones. Ugh.
Natasha is a very superstitious woman who studiously avoids that which is hutlanee. Hutlanee is bad luck, basically, but most of it is associated with Indian religion. For example,
“You must not throw away the bones of the animal after it was killed. That was hutlanee. You must bury the bones and say some Indian words. This was so the animal’s spirit wouldn’t be offended. Natasha knew a lot of stories about people who hadn’t caught a bear or a beaver in many, many years because they had done the wrong things. The animal had to let you catch it. [pgs. 9-10]
This was only one of many things that Natasha sharply condemns. It’s a ruling factor in her life. She also believes in ghosts and their desire to abduct the living into the land of the dead.
For the most part, Toughboy and Sister don’t believe what Natasha tells them. They respect her in a way because of her strength, but in all other ways (other than occasionally taking orders from her), they treat her as their equal.
There are several references to drunkenness, this being the most mature of them all. This is a message which Natasha and the children hear being broadcasted over the radio.
“To Nick and the kids at Old Fort. Tried to get back on the mail plane today, but couldn’t make it. Will be home tomorrow, weather permitting. Love from Mom.”
“Kyuh,” said Natasha, with contempt. “She’s not fooling no one. She’s in town drinking. They’re not going to see her for a week, till she spent all their money. She’s no good, that woman.”
Sure enough, for the next few days the messages from Mom gave one excuse after another, and then there were no more. Sister wondered if the mother had ever gone home to her children. [pg. 71]
Natasha smokes cigarettes.
Sister remembers the story about Natasha’s grandfather, how one day he came back with two new wives, and how much this angered the wife he already had.
While Sister is at the store two men tease her, one saying he may get a new girlfriend while she’s gone, the other asking her to have a beer with him. She laughs and giggles at both of them, and seems to consider their behavior normal.
‘D—‘ is used five times (all fully spelled), darn once, and God’s name twice.
Conclusion. Winter Camp presents courageous characters, yet, due to the violence and superstition, I do not recommend it.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret