When Serik’s attempt to capture a golden eagle goes wrong, Aisulu carries her injured brother down the mountain to their family for help. But as her uncle is preparing to set the broken leg, Aisulu decides to break a promise and tells her parents about the limp Serik has been concealing for months. And suddenly, her life changes completely. Her parents leave for the city to take Serik to the hospital, and Aisulu is left in the care of her uncle and his eccentric wife, unsure whether Serik will ever forgive her for her betrayal, even though she may have saved his life. And so, she decides she will save another life. Abandoning her responsibilities for milking the goats and carrying water, she heads back to the mountains and finds the dead eagle’s nest, rescuing its baby chick and bringing it home with her. At first she fears that her uncle will take the eagle from her, since she is a girl and eagle hunting is man’s work. But as she and the eagle bond, she sees a new side of her uncle as he encourages her to train the eagle as a hunter. As Aisulu and her eagle progress through their training, she sees the complexity of the attitudes about gender norms in her family and community and realizes that she may be in a unique position to save her brother–and the rest of her family–once again.
Set in the Kazakh region of modern Mongolia, this is the story of a girl finding her self-worth and realizing how much she is valued by her family, even though she is different. The uncertainty of Serik’s health and Aisulu’s eagle training drive the plot, but the real power of the story is in the transformation of Aisulu and her family. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to middle grade readers who enjoy character-driven novels and learning about other cultures.