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Denise Gosliner Orenstein (1950-)


Writer and educator Denise Orenstein is the author of the children's books When the Wind Blows Hard and Unseen Companion, both of which take place in rural Alaska, where Orenstein spent much of her early career. Her first novel, When the Wind Blows Hard, is based on her experiences as a teacher in native Alaskan villages and focuses on a young girl whose loneliness after her divorced mother moves to a remote town is ultimately cured through a new friendship.

In Orenstein's young-adult novel Unseen Companion the lives of four Alaskans intersect when they come into contact with a mixed-race teen named Dove Alexie. The boy is a prisoner at the Bethel jail and is apparently being battered. When Alexie goes missing, his absence is noticed by Lorraine, who delivers food to the jail, as well as by Annette, who works as a part-time jail bookkeeper. Edgar and Thelma remember Alexie from school, and are left wondering when the teen arrives at jail beaten and then disappears without a trace.

When Annette and the others attempt to get to the truth of the matter, jail officials deny the corruption taking place, and even go so far at to deny any knowledge of the missing boy. Orenstein alternates between the four narrators, each portraying Alexie in a different light and providing readers with varying perspectives that incorporate racial issues unique to Alaska. School Library Journal critic Vicki Reutter praised the novel as "a multifaceted, compelling glimpse into Alaskan bush life," while a Booklist reviewer commented that "Exceptionally strong characters and a background of unusual cultural conflict distinguish Orenstein's stark, kaleidoscopic novel" Praising Unseen Companion as a "gritty, tightly written" story, a Kirkus reviewer also cited the author for her present-tense narration and her "complex and fully realized characters."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, October 15, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of Unseen Companion, p. 409; January 1, 2004, review of Unseen Companion, p. 780.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2003, review of Unseen Companion, p. 966.

Publishers Weekly, November 24, 2003, review of Unseen Companion, p. 66.

School Library Journal, January, 2004, Vicki Reutter, review of Unseen Companion, p. 134.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Grace Napolitano: 1936—: Politician to Richard (Wayne) Peck (1934-) Biography - CareerDenise Gosliner Orenstein (1950-) Biography - Career, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Honors Awards, Writings