Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Chilling out with YA fiction

Surviving Antarctica : Reality TV 2083 / Andrea White
New York : Eos, c2005

Calgary: Red Deer Press, c2006.

I've just read side by side two Young Adult novels, set at opposite ends of the planet. They are both interesting reads though quite different in approach.

The first, set in Antarctica, is a futuristic look at American society where education is gained solely by watching television, and the opportunity to go to college and have a resultant upper class life is decided by dice throw. Five teenagers, having lost their throw, are desperate enough to sign up for the latest reality show: Historical Survivor Antarctica. If they survive this reenactment of Scott's doomed 1910-1913 expedition they have a chance to win cash and an education. The problem is, they must survive. There have been many Historical Survivor shows before, and it is life and death. (my favourite: Historical Survivor Black Plague) To increase ratings, this show is using teenagers, but this idea backfires and becomes a rallying point for people to stand up against the excesses and unfair structures in their society. The novel starts a bit slowly, introducing each of the kids with their own chapter, and feeling a bit formulaic as a result. But it picks up as the group heads off for Antarctica, and their experiences trying to survive scripted catastrophes as well as the weather allow them each to find their strengths and to bond as a team. The plotting is pretty straightforward and predictable, but the futuristic setting is possible enough that it may spark some thought and discussion among teens who read it. An important element of the book's theme is the need to work for the common good and to stand up for what is right. It's an important message, and it is told in a light and entertaining manner. It's a fun read, full of historical tidbits about Scott's Expedition. For these reasons alone, I think it would make a good summer read. But there is also the bonus of reading about blizzards and ice and frostbite while sweltering in the August sun. :)

The second, On Thin Ice, is set in the present day in the Canadian Arctic. Ashley is part Inuit, and after her family moves to the town of Nanurtalik she begins dreaming of polar bears. Her shamanic dreams affect what happens to the town. She must learn about her family history from her grandmother and her strange Uncle Jonas, who carves powerful bears from firestone. He also drums and sings, all of which Ashley discovers once he awakens from years of seizures and sleep. Ashley's growing struggle to accept her shamanic heritage and her artistic gifts play out over a year of upset in her village. There are freak storms, the first polar bear sighting in 30 years, and even a jet crashing into the tundra. Her connection to polar bears is also discussed in relation to climate change and how that affects everyone in the Arctic, human and animal alike. (The cover carries the logo of the World Wildlife Fund). I was impressed by this novel; the author lives in the Northwest Territories and works with teens, and his familiarity with his subjects comes through. I found it to be well structured, and a very informative glimpse at a unusual way of life. It provides lots of excitement, some wilderness information, wonderfully entertaining family dynamics, and a likeable and unique main character. I'll recommend this one for people interested in a different way of looking at the Arctic. The author's website is also full of resources about climate change, polar bears, the Arctic and his other books.


  1. Ooh, I think On Thin Ice sounds good. I've been chilling with YA books lately, too. Well, now I'm reading Roth, but before that it was two YA book.

  2. Dewey - aren't they fun? I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed On Thin Ice, and I'm going to look for his other books, too.

  3. These both sound interesting. It sounds like it would be easy to be far too heavy-handed in the writing of "Surviving Antarctica" but I gather you found it not so, which is nice.

  4. Heather - it wasn't really subtle, but not too heavy handed, either. I liked it as a fun read, but the other one made me think.

  5. The Surviving Antarctica book, looks good. That can wait - have to finish my own challenges first.


  6. Hi there, I found your site via the Bookworms Carnival. I'm living in Nunavut right now and I'm very interested in your Polar Reading theme. I clicked on the label to see which other books you've covered and I'm embarassed to say that I haven't read any of them (yet!). Do you mind if I link to your blog? I think a lot of my readers would be interested in your site as well.

  7. I haven't read either of these, so will add them to my library list. Do you know Geraldine Mccaughrean's YA novel 'The White Darkness', which is also set in Antarctica, possible one of the best YA novels of the last couple of years.

  8. John - Glad you found me! If you have any other good Polar Themed books to suggest I'd love to hear of them. Sure you can link, I'm always glad to share anything of interest.

    Ann - Yes, "White Darkness" was one of the first books I read for my Polar Reading theme. I agree, it is one of the best YA I've read in ages. I absolutely loved it.


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