Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Untraceable (The Nature of Grace, #1), by S.R. Johannes


Coleman & Stott, ISBN 9780984799121, November 2011

Grace's father has been missing for months, and everyone tells her she needs to accept the fact that he's dead. She can't; she spends all her free time searching the woods for traces of what happened to her forest ranger father. Her mother is making her see a psychologist to help her accept what's happened and deal with her grief, but her mother isn't dealing well with her grief either--working extra shifts, never being home for dinner, forgetting such basics about her daughter as the fact that Grace is lactose-intolerant.

Meanwhile, Grace is messing up most of her relationships with her determination, or obsession, to find her father.

Set in small town North Carolina, this is a story about a teenager's refusal to accept the loss of her father, but also about wildlife conservation, the market in bear parts, economic stress, and the still-reverberating effects of the conflict between Native Americans and European-descended white settlers. The daughter of a federal forest ranger, Grace has grown up learning appreciation for wildlife, learning her father's skills, and respecting Indian culture. Her first pet was an orphaned bear cub named Simon, whom they raised and returned to the wild. Her part-time job is in a store run by a venerable old Indian man whom she respects and loves almost as a grandfather.

The local Indian reservation, though, has a bear pit which is a significant tourist attraction and a major source of the tribe's income. Grace's father had opposed the resulting abuse of the bears, but the reservation is sovereign territory and outside his jurisdiction.

When Grace finds Simon, the bear she helped raise, shot dead in the woods, and the body is gone by the time she gets the other ranger out there to see it, she knows something major is going on. When she starts encountering strangers in the woods--first a handsome boy just a year or so older than she is, then two men who may be out-of-season bear hunters--she frantically tries to gather enough information to get the local sheriff to act.

What she doesn't know is that there really is a plot, a bigger one than she imagines, and not everyone she believes is a friend really is. The tension keeps building, and explodes in a totally unexpected conclusion.

Recommended.