How to Survive in the North by Luke Healy
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
First Published: November 15th, 2016
Publisher: Nobrow Press
Recommended Age: 13+
Genres & Themes: Adult, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Survival, Shipwrecks
How to Survive in the North is an unforgettable journey of love and loss; weaving together the true life historical expeditions of Ada Blackjack and Robert Bartlett, in 1912 and 1916, with a contemporary fictional story, How to Survive in the North is a unique and visual narrative journey that shows the strength it takes to survive in even the harshest conditions – whether that be struggling for survival in the Arctic in the 1900s or surviving a mid-life crisis in the present day.
It’s a little bit disappointing (and kind of sad) when the best thing about a graphic novel is its illustrations, especially when the best thing about its illustrations is the colouring. Oh, the colouring is gorgeous: so colourful, vibrant and reminiscent of the impressionism style of paintings. They are very pleasing to the eyes, that’s for sure.
But the story had me rather confused. I really don’t think the author should have included the first pages, which create a sort of brief prologue. I usually don’t mind prologues or sneak peeks, because they can be meaningful and a great start to a book, but the one here only made me ask myself questions.
There are three different stories in this one book. All of the stories are linked to one another in different ways, although it takes time to understand why the author preferred to focus on three stories instead of one. By the end, I understood why it was important the three stories be told, but honestly I think just two would have been very fine too. I’m saying Ada’s story was not necessary, although she does grow strong and resourceful and that was beautiful to witness.
The problem is I couldn’t connect to anyone, and while I did feel sympathetic towards Ada, I also kept thinking that I didn’t know anything about her. The author did not write this book to introduce us to the mind of the characters (based on real life people) but rather to make us see how the north impacted their activities and how they defended themselves against it and all of its elements—animals, cold, ice.
And I also did not understand why the teacher’s story was important. Sully was made up. He is not a real person, but he is a man of the contemporary world, whereas the other people belong to the past. Sully is such a boring character. He is depressed because he slept with a student and was caught, so he’s not able to work for a while. It was hard to feel anything for him, because all I knew about him was that he slept with that guy (no idea why or how) and is obsessed with Steffanson’s expeditions.
Therefore, I want to take something back: I don’t think the author should have focused on two stories. I think he should have focused on one—Steffanson’s. Why make things more complicated than they need to be? But well, it’s too late now.
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