By DEVIN HEILMAN
The word "Idaho" has a mysterious origin, yet a variety of meanings.
"There are a lot of things 'Idaho' could mean, like 'gem of the mountains,'" author Emily Ruskovich said Friday. "The conclusion I came to is I think that it's not a native word. It's a magnetic word that people have put their own hearts and stories into and want it to mean something. I think that's quite lovely."
The Gem State's formal moniker has again been reinvented with Ruskovich's debut novel, "Idaho." It is a tale of a family's loss, grief and faded memories and takes place in the fictional town of Ponderosa in North Idaho, a setting derived from Ruskovich's memories of growing up in Athol and Blanchard. She graduated from Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy in 2004 and now lives and teaches in Colorado.
Ruskovich investigated the true origin of "Idaho" and found that it may have come from a miscommunication when delegates were figuring out what to name the new state of Colorado.
She incorporated her findings into the book through her character, Ann.
"The real story seemed instead to be about a miner, a delegate to Congress," the passage reads. "He was playing with a little girl in the House chamber of the nation's capitol. She was the daughter of a friend of his. A little girl named Ida. She wasn't supposed to be there in the House chamber, but she was, playing with this man, a stranger to her, while discussions went on around them about the name of a proposed state. When suddenly she ran away from him, toward the door that led into the halls of Congress, he called out to her, Ida! Ho! Come back to me!"
Ruskovich writes in her novel that the other delegates thought the man was offering "Idaho" as an option for the name and they loved it. The man fibbed and said it was a Shoshoni word describing the sunrise, but his lie was found out before the state was officially named.
"But Idaho did not die," Ruskovich writes. "The miner brought it into the mines with him. He repeated the word and its false meaning again and again. The sound was so magnetic, it took hold."
The intricacies of this mysterious origin and its meanings are woven throughout "Idaho," which has received high praises from news outlets such as The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle.
"At the heart of this novel are two little girls," Ruskovich said. "I just thought it was a very beautiful connection. This novel is about this woman who is calling back memories to her as a little girl."
Ruskovich is a 2015 recipient of the O. Henry Award for "Owl," a striking story about an accidental shooting that first published in the literary magazine One Story.
"It was very gratifying and a great surprise," she said. "I don't believe I knew I had been nominated by One Story."
Emily's dad, Mike Ruskovich of Grangeville, said he is incredibly proud of his daughter, who has been telling stories since before she could even write.
"When she was a little kid, she'd tell us what she wanted to say in her stories and then I would write them down or her mom would write them down," he said. "She started pretty young as a writer. It's pretty amazing to see somebody achieve what they've wanted their whole life."
To honor her dad, Emily included in "Idaho" a song he wrote when he was young. She surprised him with an advance copy of the book on Christmas.
“It was one of the most moving moments of my life," Emily said. "It felt like such a big deal to be able to show him how much his writing means to me and for him to understand whoever reads my novel will read his song. It felt very special, I’ll always remember it."
Emily thanked her former North Idaho teachers Bill Proser, Anna Hertzberg, Diane Riley, Bruce Baker and Cindy Clabby for their encouragement when she was their student.
"The education I received from Idaho served me very well," she said. "It was so important to me to be surrounded by students and teachers who cared so much about curiosity and being open to the world. I'm just very grateful for that."