alaskan, author, musician, educator
“Bristol Bay Summer made me miss Alaska. Its authentic, wonderfully written story includes the joys and challenges of growing up in the Last Frontier.”
– Jewel, singer-songwriter, author, and proud native of Homer, Alaska
Bristol Bay Summer
Behind Bristol Bay Summer
Author Notes & Photos
Bristol Bay Summer
Bristol Bay, 1980
12-year-old Zoey Morley frowned at the raggedy airplane that would take her farther away, to Bristol Bay, Alaska, where she would somehow have to make peace with 10 million salmon, her mom’s bush-pilot boyfriend, a boy she doesn’t understand, and the only family she has left.
The ancient practice of setnet fishing for salmon in Alaska’s Bristol Bay is the setting for Zoey ‘s struggle to accept the unraveling of her family and a wilderness so huge and strange only her artist’s heart can find its meaning.
Along with its stunning beauty, Bristol Bay spits out one challenge after another, including stalking grizzlies, a Japanese typhoon, and a plane crash that threatens to end everything. Will Zoey find the strength to save the one person she wished would go away? Or will they both end up like the pieces of airplane fuselage she saw embedded in a cliffside on her first flight into the huge wilderness beyond Anchorage?
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The Mom's Choice Awards® has named Bristol Bay Summer as among the best in family-friendly media, products and services. The MCA evaluation process uses a propriety methodology in which entries are scored on a number of elements including production quality, design, educational value, entertainment value, originality, appeal, and cost. Not only did Bristol Bay Summer win, but the Alaska adventure book was given the highest seal of approval, the Gold Mom's Choice Award.
"The Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award for Children's Literature is given to a published children's book of literary nature writing—nonfiction or fiction—that captures the spirit of the human relationship with nature and promotes the awareness, preservation, appreciation, or restoration of the natural world for future generations.
Kirkus Excellent Review
"...the book delivers scenes of action and suspense in a wholly realistic, organic way. A wonderfully atmospheric debut." —Kirkus Reviews
Reviews of Bristol Bay Summer
"Books about the real Alaska are few and far between. Bristol Bay Summer, the newest addition to the canon, is the real thing. Through the eyes of Alaskan newcomer Zoey Morley, we fall in love with the power and beauty of Bristol Bay and its people. Annie Boochever’s prose is as fierce and elemental as the land itself; her story takes readers to the edge of the cliff and back again."
—Debby Dahl Edwardson, author of My Name is Not Easy (National Book Award Finalist, A Junior Library Guild Selection; Best Children's Books of 2011, Washington Post) and Blessing's Bead (ALA/YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults 2011. Booklist Top 10 First Novels for Youth: 2010)
"Having spent 23 delightful Bristol Bay summers myself, I’m thrilled that Annie Boochever has written a book that so perfectly captures both the coming of age of a young adult in this uniquely Alaskan setting, but more importantly, provides insights into the profound rich cultural heritage of this fishery. Bristol Bay Summer is a must-read for anyone—young and old alike—wishing to better understand the critical importance of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery to both feeding the world AND feeding the soul!”
—Sue Aspelund, Executive Director Regional Seafood Development Association and long-time setnet operator on the Naknek River
"When Zoey's parents divorce, her dad disappears, and her mom uproots her—twice. She feels angry and alone. Through the hard work of living in a wild part of Alaska, she comes to rely on strengths she never knew she had. She learns compassion for those around her, coming to understand that their lives are at least as difficult as her own. This is a powerful story of a girl becoming a woman, a story of land and sea and artistry."
—Peggy Shumaker, Alaska State Writer Laureate 2010-2012
The True Story Behind
Bristol Bay Summer
I lived parts of this story more than 30 years ago when I took my two children to Bristol Bay aboard a — yes, raggedy! — Cessna 185 with my new boyfriend at the controls.
That summer left an extraordinary impression on me. From the close knit families who worked heroic hours for the money and food they would need in the winter, to the deadly risks present in their deceptively simple and challenging world. And, of course, the soul-stirring beauty of the earth, sea and air that engulfed me every minute of every day. The experience left me forever altered and in awe of all things Bristol Bay.
Though Bristol Bay Summer is a fictionalized story based on those adventures, all the settings are as accurate as I could make them. I revisited Naknek in the summer of 2011 to refresh my memory and connect with local people involved in the fishery. And I pestered all manner of folks familiar with the Bay to read and comment on my drafts.
These photos of Bristol Bay are by well-known Alaskan photographer Chris Miller, who received a grant from the Rasmusen Foundation to document the Bristol Bay fishery.
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Author's Notes and Photos
When I first went to Bristol Bay, my children were 4 and 6. In this fictionalized version, I have fast-forwarded their ages and developed the story through the eyes of 12-going-on-13-year-old Zoey Morley as she does her best to look after 6-year-old brother Eliot and their loyal black lab Lhasa.
Here you can see what my kids and the airplane they flew in really looked like that summer many years ago.
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Photos by Dan Beishline
Author's Photos of Naknek
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Tangle of antlers
Containers of fish to ship all over the world
"Deadman" on Naknek beach
Hanging Fisherman out to Dry
Furs for Sale
Gas station attendant?
Naknek Hilton (Fish processor dormitory)
Road from the beach to King Salmon
Yes, they have television
Bristol Bay Borough School
Although closely drawn from my own daughter, Zoey Morley evolved into her own person as I struggled to better understand her anger and frustration. The need to regain that elusive family, however dysfunctional it might have been, is something I’ve experienced myself and witnessed many times as a teacher. Like many teens in that situation, Zoey doesn’t like feeling angry all the time, but she can’t find a way past it. Her family's constant moving and instability make her wonder if she will ever see her dad again.
Zoey is a complex person and as brilliant as that rare Bristol Bay sunny morning light that glitters and dances across the water. She is strong-willed as any salmon, and fiercely loyal to her little brother Eliot. Her salvation is her art. She sketches everything she sees and through those drawings finds meaning and eventually acceptance of the world around her.
These drawings are by my real daughter, Liorah Wichser, but they could easily have been made by Zoey. See if you can recognize them from the book.
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Sleeping Lady (as they flew over it.)
Salmon and butterfly mural in the old fishing boat.
Raven peaking through the tent.