Deb Vanasse (1957–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Writings, Sidelights
(Debra Lynn Lehmann)
Born 1957, in St. Paul, MN; Education: Bemidji State University, B.A.; California State University at Dominguez Hills, master's degree. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, writing, traveling, music, dance.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Sasquatch Books, 119 S. Main, Ste. 400, Seattle, WA 98104.
High school teacher in Nunapitchuk, AK, and other Alaskan villages; university instructor in Bethel and Fairbanks, AK, 1987–88; North Pole High School, educator, 1988–99; real-estate broker.
A Distant Enemy, Lodestar Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Out of the Wilderness, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Alaska Animal Babies, photographs by Gavriel Jecan, Sasquatch Books (Seattle, WA), 2005.
Under Alaska's Midnight Sun, illustrated by Jeremiah Trammell, Sasquatch Books (Seattle, WA), 2005.
A Totem Tale, illustrated by Eric Brooks, Sasquatch Books (Seattle, WA), 2006.
Author Deb Vanasse has spent most of her adult life living in Alaska, much of it teaching high school and college in remote areas. As a result, the unique culture and environment of rural Alaska are key features of her work. Her first two books, A Distant Enemy and Out of the Wilderness, are young-adult novels, but since then she has also published several picture books. "I could spend many years and many books attempting to capture the essence of Southwestern Alaska, an area so remote that few people get to experience it firsthand," Vanasse wrote on her home page.
Joseph, the protagonist of A Distant Enemy, is a half-Eskimo, half-white (kass'aq in the Yup'ik Eskimo language), fourteen-year-old boy who lives in a small, remote Alaskan village. After Joseph's kass'aq father abandons the family to return to "civilization," Joseph takes out his anger over this abandonment on every other kass'aq whom he encounters. These include the wildlife rangers, who enforce rules that restrict the Yup'ik from fishing, and Joseph's English teacher. That teacher, Mr. Townsend, and Joseph's grandfather try to help the boy, but Joseph seems to be bent on allowing his rage to destroy him. Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman commented that Vanasse "tries to do too much" in this book, but still praised "the strong sense of place and the drama of Joseph's personal conflict." A Publishers Weekly contributor also praised this aspect of the book, calling A Distant Enemy "a vivid portrait of modern Eskimo lifestyles, conflicts and fears … [and] a sensitive account of one teenager's coming of age."
Josh, the protagonist of Out of the Wilderness, has the opposite problem from Joseph: his father loves the Alaskan wilderness far too much. The man takes fifteen-year-old Josh and Josh's older half-brother, Nathan, out to a remote area, where they build a ten-foot-by-twenty-foot cabin and survive by hunting, gathering, and building the things they need. Josh wants nothing more than to return to his friends and school, but Nathan and their father love this life. However, Nathan's passion for the wilderness causes him to take dangerous risks as he tries to get closer to nature, and it falls to Josh to save him. "Pragmatic Josh, intense Nathan, and the boys' guilt-ridden father are intriguingly drawn," Debbie Carton wrote in Booklist, and a Publishers Weekly reviewer deemed the book a "chilling winter's tale."
Under Alaska's Midnight Sun, one of Vanasse's first picture books, examines a unique aspect of life in Alaska: on the solstice (the longest day of the year) the sun never sets. A young girl struggles to stay awake to see the midnight sun, as she, her mother, and her baby brother walk out into the country to observe the animals frolicking in the late-night sunshine. "The text is fresh and vivid," Carol L. MacKay wrote in School Library Journal, while according to Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan, Vanese "conveys [the girl's] excitement as well as her determination not to fall asleep before midnight."
Biographical and Critical Sources
ALAN Review, winter, 2000, Deb Vanasse, "On Taking Ourselves Too Seriously, and Other Tragic Mistakes."
Booklist, January 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of A Distant Enemy, p. 846; March 15, 1999, Debbie Carton, review of Out of the Wilderness, p. 1330; May 1, 2005, Carolyn Phelan, review of Under Alaska's Midnight Sun, p. 1594.
Children's Bookwatch, September, 2005, review of Under Alaska's Midnight Sun.
Publishers Weekly, January 13, 1997, review of A Distant Enemy, p. 76; February 15, 1999, review of Out of the Wilderness, p. 108.
School Library Journal, August, 2005, Carol L. MacKay, review of Under Alaska's Midnight Sun, p. 107.
Deb Vanasse Home Page, http://www.debvanasse.com/ (April 8, 2006).