A Reader’s Guide

Whisper to the Blood

Whisper to the Blood cover art

Eight years ago Kate Shugak returned to the Park to recover from the mental, physical and emotional wounds suffered from working as an investigator for the Anchorage district attorney. Three years later her grandmother, chair of Kate’s Native association, dies and leaves Kate heir apparent. For five years Kate has managed to avoid this dubious legacy, but the discovery of the world’s second largest gold mine in the Park forces her into a seat on the board of directors. But there are many who would do anything, even murder, to stop the mine.

1. Dog sleds or snow machines — what is a “traditional” lifestyle? To live a traditional lifestyle, can you have electricity? Running water? A telephone? Internet access? If not, why not? And who gets to say?

2. What changes will come to the Park with the discovery of the Suulutaq Mine? Will it be possible for the Park rats to maintain their traditional way of life after construction and production begin? Does it matter? Why?

3. What’s a boomer? Are boomers good or bad for the Park? Why? Is Kate a boomer?

4. What is Kate’s relationship with the four aunties? What is the four aunties’ relationship to the rest of the Park? Define and describe the limits of their power. Do they have more power than Jim the trooper? Do they have more power than Dan the ranger?

5. Was Kate right to suspect Jim of cheating? Did Jim have a right to be angry? What does the future hold for Kate and Jim as a couple?

6. What happens if Kate finds out on her own about Willard? How would it affect her relationship with Jim? Is he right to lie?

7. What is Kate’s relationship to Johnny? Are they parent and child, or friends? Does it matter? Why?

8. Talk about the relationship between Ruthe Bauman and Mac Devlin. In what ways, if any, does it exemplify the relationships of all Park rats, to each other, to their lifestyle, and to their environment?

9. What’s the difference between Talia Ross and Doyle Greenbaugh? Aren’t they both boomers? If not, why not?

10. The title, Whisper to the Blood, is taken from the second stanza of Theodore Roethke’s poem “Prognosis,” which might be loosely defined in concrete terms as the initial infection of a disease and in metaphorical terms as the spiritual infection of a family. What is the whisper to the blood in the novel? Who is the novel’s “family?” What is the prognosis?