Raven Stole the Moon, by Garth Stein.
"Raven is the patron saint of the Tlingit. He's responsible for bringing the sun and the moon and water and almost everything else, to the earth." - from Raven Stole the Moon, page 24 of the ARC -
"Do you understand, Ferguson? Raven didn't just give us the sun, moon, and stars. He had to steal them from someone else."
"I don't follow."
"Stealing is an act of evil. But giving is an act of good. So was Raven good or evil?"
Ferguson felt a little dumb for having to be led to the answer.
"Both. Exactly. You now have a complete understanding of the Tlingit religion." - from Raven Stole the Moon, page 46 of the ARC -
Jenna Rosen used to have a wonderful life -- married to a man she loved, raising a little boy who meant the world to her. But a fateful trip to Thunder Bay, a lavish resort in Alaska, steals away everything. Bobby, Jenna's five-year-old son dies in a drowning accident and Jenna feels responsible for his death. Her way of dealing with the guilt is to turn to alcohol and prescription drugs. Her husband, Robert, turns his grief to anger and directs it mostly at Jenna. Two years after Bobby's death, Jenna impulsively leaves Robert and boards a ferry from Seattle to a tiny town in Alaska where her grandmother once lived ... looking for answers in the cold and remote wilderness of Alaska.
Jenna's journey for closure quickly becomes a terrifying ordeal where Jenna must not only sift through the legends and beliefs of her ancestors, but must face the devastation of her marriage.
On its surface, Raven Stole the Moon is a supernatural thriller which brings to life the Tlingit (pronounced Klink-it) legend of the Kushtaka - otter people who steal the souls of the dead. The Kushtaka are shape-shifters who can appear in whatever guise they desire to trick people into going with them. Jenna almost immediately encounters the Kushtaka upon her arrival in Alaska ... and Stein amps up the tension and fear, successfully driving the story forward.
But to classify Raven Stole the Moon as just a thriller would be wrong. There are deeper issues embedded in the novel: how does a parent survive the loss of a child? And how does a marriage evolve or devolve in the aftermath of such an event? What role does religious faith play in recovery? How does someone forgive themselves for a tragedy for which they feel responsible? These questions resonate through the story. Jenna appears to have no religious faith until she discovers the religion of the Tlingit which puts her on a pathway to self-discovery and provides closure for the loss of her son. Her journey is not just a physical journey, it is a spiritual one.
As the sky regained its color and the birds awoke, Jenna stood naked before the world, wondering what was real and what was imagined, trying to fathom an absolute truth, a set of values assigned by some kind of higher being that she could live by, a belief system that would give her the answers she wanted and that she could depend on to survive more than a few thousand years. - from Raven Stole the Moon, page 227 of the ARC -
I read this novel in just under three days. The story pulled me in and made me want to continue reading to find the answers. I loved the German Shepherd who makes an appearance as Jenna's spirit guide. I admit to being terrified at some of the scenes when Jenna was being pursued by the Kushtaka. That said, the writing is not perfect. At times the dialogue felt stilted and I longed for more development of some of the supporting characters. I did not always understand Jenna or her motivations.
Raven Stole the Moon is Garth Stein's debut novel -- released initially 13 years ago, it is now being re-released by Harper Collins after the success of his bestseller The Art of Racing in the Rain. I loved The Art of Racing in the Rain which I read last year (read my review). There are many differences between the two novels -- perhaps most obvious the level of the writing. Stein has certainly grown as a writer in the 13 years between books. Despite some of the flaws in the prose, Raven Stole the Moon is still a worthwhile read, especially for those interested in Native American legend. The strengths of the book are its engaging storyline and the theme of recovery through spiritual awareness.
Three and a half stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".