Gr 6-9 At 14 Alexa knows she isn't comfortable in ``the world of the kitchen.'' Her place is the rugged New Zealand wilderness that she has known all of her life. Her father has very different ideas about a ``woman's place,'' so he chooses her 16-year-old brother Tod to join him in the annual sheep muster. Both Tod and Alexa know that Alexa is the better rider and sheep herder, but Tod longs to impress his father and earn his place beside the men. Accompanied by two animals that her father believes are worthlessa stray mutt and an aging horseAlexa sets out on her own adventure: she will search for the otters that she has heard about from an elderly Maori tribesman. It is a tale most believe to be fabrication because New Zealand isn't a natural habitat for otters. Alexa finds the otters and herself, but not before she encounters and survives the worst of nature's elements. She is discovered by Tod, who figures out where his missing sister has gone. Both have ventured out alone to find a sense of self-worth apart from their family's expectations. Their paralleled actual and symbolic quests add dimension to a novel that contains the best elements of classic coming-of-age stories and wilderness survival tales. There is a richness and a depth here that transcend the cliches of those genres. Savage is to be applauded for her skill at weaving carefully plotted adventures, subtle character complexities and lushly detailed descriptions into a unified and fresh story. Heide Piehler, Shorewood Pub . Lib . , Wis.