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The Great Death by John E. Smelcer

The Great Death

NewGen - YA Fiction   
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This is an extraordinary story of courage, commitment and survival of two young sisters in the harsh snowy Alaskan wilderness as they try to save themselves and in doing so, save each other. Beautifully written, this novel is inspired by the true story of the effect that European settlers had on Alaska, bringing with them as they did all manner of diseases, which the Natives had no immunity from. In some instances whole villages died out and to some, generations later, the period is still referred to as the Great Death. As the youngsters load up a raft to take them away from the death in their village their epic journey begins to find a new home.

The author’s first novel The Trap is one of the most haunting novels we’ve read and was hugely well-received on first publication.


The Great Death by John E. Smelcer

The visitors from downriver had strange pale skin and blue eyes, but they left a deadly sickness of red spots and fever. Thirteen-year-old Millie and her younger sister Maura were the only survivors. As the first snowflakes fell the dogs were turning wild, and it was clear that the two girls must leave to find a new home. They loaded up a raft to take them away, and so began an epic journey through the harsh snowy landscape. This is an extraordinary story of courage, commitment and survival.


John Smelcer's The Great Death is an outstanding piece of writing and undoubtedly my favourite novel of the year. -- Lindsey Stainer * The Bookseller * A must-read by an exciting new novelist: definitely one to watch. -- Jake Hope * The Bookseller * I had to remind myself that this is based on the real experiences of Smelcer's grandmother and her sister, their story of survival brought movingly to life in this fine novel. -- Sue Baker * Bookseller (teenage category preview) * The storytelling skilfully combines these two elements of realism and folktale, becoming both a practical and spiritual handbook of survival. It has much to offer children of nine to thirteen. Remote as it may seem from their own lives, its core experiences are universal. * Books for Keeps * Vividly written and eventful tale. * Carousel *

About the Author

John E. Smelcer

John E. Smelcer was born in 1963, and is of Ahtna Athabaskan Indian descent. Currently the Executive Director of the Ahtna Tribe's Heritage Foundation, he has held visiting professorships at universities around the world. He earned a doctorate in comparative literature in 1993 and a masters degree in literature and humanities in 1991. He is faculty at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

His work appears in numerous international anthologies by the likes of Random House, Dover, and American Indian Press. In 1994 he edited Durable Breath: Contemporary Native American Poetry (Salmon Run & American Indian Press). His poems have appeared in such periodicals as The Atlantic Monthly, and he is poetry editor at Rosebud, among the nation's most prestigious quarterlies of poetry and fiction.

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Book Info

Publication date

8th October 2009


John E. Smelcer

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Andersen Press Ltd


176 pages


Adventure stories (Children's / Teenage)
Historical fiction (Children's / Teenage)
Personal & social issues: racism & multiculturalism (Children's / Teenage)



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