'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.' - author Jackie French

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Review: How to Survive in the North

What a remarkable book. It's one of those tomes you pick up and fall into, and marvel at its construction. It's also one of those books you really have to see for yourself. For me, I was utterly entranced.

Set out as a comic-style graphic novel, it follows several story threads--two historical and one modern. The modern storyline follows Sullivan Barnaby, a fictional university professor, disgraced for having an affair with a male student. He is a deeply flawed but tender character, who finds himself inadvertently drawn into the tale of two remarkable historical tales ...

The other two threads focus on these tales. Captain Robert Bartlett's story begins in 1912 when he sets out on an Arctic expedition, and 23-year old Inuit Ada Blackjack's tale starts in 1921 when she joins a top secret Arctic expedition, as the seamstress.
Bartlett's journey was one of the most treacherous Arctic explorations, with their ship--the Karluk--trapped in sea ice and subsequently lost, and the disbandment of the crew. Many crew members died, but Bartlett was instrumental in rescuing 11 men trapped on Wrangel Island. He also later rescued another ill-fated crew who had been lost on the ice for over four years.

Ada's story, 9 years later, sees her joining a small crew in attempt to claim Wrangel Island for Canada, led by Allan Crawford. Ada, a widow, was in desperate need of funds to care for her son, so she took the job with no clue as to the challenges ahead.

The small crew became stranded on the island. While Crawford and two other men crossed the frozen sea for Siberia, in search of aide (never to be seen again), Ada remained to care for scurvy-ridden Lorne Knight, who eventually died. Alone with the camp's cat, Vic, Ada learned to survive in the freezing conditions until she was rescued in August 1923.

These are a series of remarkable stories that tie together beautifully in this cleverly designed book. Each thread has its own tri-colour palette, to help delineate the threads. The small details and speech bubbles and sound effects add beautifully to the gravity of each situation--whether referencing the pain and danger of survival in extreme conditions, or under the scrutiny of society's expectations and those in power.

A richly rewarding and fascinating read.

Note: Although this book would absolutely suit much younger readers in terms of accessibility and style, there is a small amount of strong language and a core adult (sexual) theme (though related scenes are by no means graphic). Although I personally love these additions and they really do add interest and style to the threaded storylines, they may preclude younger readers from enjoying the historical content. I would happily allow my 13- and 16-year-old children to read this book, though others may feel differently.

Title: How to Survive in the North
Author/Illustrator: Luke Healy
Publisher: Nobrow, $29.99
Publication Date: 1 August 2016
Format: Hard cover
ISBN: 9781910620069
For ages: 14+
Type: Graphic Novel, Young Adult


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