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Upstream    by Melissa Lion order for
by Melissa Lion
Order:  USA  Can
Wendy Lamb Books, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Melissa Lion approaches her second book, Upstream (she debuted in Swollen), with tender-loving-care. This story of loss, grief, new hope, and friendship, is set in the 'tiny hometown' of Homer, Alaska - a country where wilderness is relished, streams are full of salmon, and the changing seasons and skies are like no other.

Martha (Marty) Powers must begin her senior year of high school without Steven; she faces her classmates for the first time since his death that summer. Dad is in the Coast Guard, Mom is a 'Northern Dame' (a member of an all-women construction union), and her two sisters, Gwen and Dottie, share her loss. Yet, healing is an individual process, and is the main theme of the novel.

Marty is the only one who knows the circumstances of Steven's death, as she was with him that day on Chinitna Bay. She climbs through the window of Steven's abandoned home next-door to her own - 'I lie in his cold room and if I turn my head I can still smell trees and cut grass. And here are the things I know: Time will never be what my watch says. Time passes too fast when you just want it to stop, and time passes too slow when all you wish for is a lifetime in a minute.'

During off-school hours, Marty works at the local movie theater. The elderly owners are ready to retire and sell the business to twenty-eight year old Katherine Pine, who recently moved into Homer from California. Marty recognizes a kinship of sadness in Katherine, and slowly opens up to her new boss and friend. Katherine is taught by Marty all she needs to know about the movie business, including splicing film tapes, plus the delight of catching a 'hard fought' sockeye-salmon. In turn, Katherine brings rays of hope into Marty's life.

Melissa Lion makes Alaska a secondary cast member - a bald eagle soaring with 'a hunk of bright orange salmon in its mouth', two bull moose cavorting in a field, the savoring of round red berries that taste like watermelon, 'fireweed bursting into purple and red', and the cloudy blue of the river at Cooper Landing. Marty reflects, 'I'm grateful for the glaciers and the runoff and that I'll always be reminded of the color of his eyes.' Readers will cherish sharing Marty's heartbreak and her journey to peace. I recommend Upstream for younger audiences, and adults too.

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