Based on the ancient Cree legend of Wihtiko, The Hill, by Alberta author, Karen Bass, is both a quest on several levels and a story of survival in a supernatural world. Initially, it resembles Hatchet as fifteen-year-old Jared’s Dad’s private jet crashes in the northern Alberta wilderness. There the similarity ends, as Kyle, a Cree teenager, also fifteen, witnesses the crash and comes to assist. Age is about the only thing that the boys have in common. Jared has no skills for surviving in the wilderness, and is at a loss without electronics. Kyle has sent his younger brother back to his Cree grandparents to get help, but Jared insists on climbing the nearest hill in order to get cell reception, even though Kyle warns him about the Cree legend of Wihtiko that his Kokum has taught Kyle to respect. Kyle has also been brought up to help those in need; so, against his instincts, he follows Jared as he trudges up the hill. Their climb awakens the “vaguely human, skeletal creature” who sets out to devour the two boys. They find themselves in another supernatural dimension where they must outwit the creature, and learn to trust one another if they hope to escape and return to their own reality. Bass’s characters are complete opposites, with Jared as the spoiled urbanite, and Kyle as the resourceful Cree teenager able to survive in the woods. Beyond the obvious plot of escape, and their terrifying encounters with Wihtiko, is the underlying theme of racial tension as both boys try to understand the other’s point of view. Both boys make comments that show their prejudices and intolerance, but eventually overcome these differences, when they realize that they must work together to develop an escape plan. In the process, they develop a friendship grounded in mutual respect for their individuality and their differences.
Bass uses evocative metaphors, and exquisite descriptive prose to establish a strong sense of place; short simple sentences heighten the sense of terror and suspense; her characters are well-developed through realistic dialogue and actions. Tolerance, respect, loyalty, and spirituality are themes for students to explore in this Young Adult novel.