How to Survive in the North

Written by Luke Healy
Review by Arleigh Johnson

Written in graphic novel format and based on the true story of Ada Blackjack—an Inuk woman who survived a disastrous expedition in the Arctic—this colorful, eye-catching adaptation, geared toward middle-graders, is a split narration between a modern teacher’s struggle with a midlife crisis, Robert Bartlett’s 1913 doomed Arctic voyage, and Canadian explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s ill-fated attempt to claim Wrangel Island off the coast of Siberia.

Sully Barnaby (a fictitious character) is an educator at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where Stefansson’s personal papers and artifacts are housed and available to the public. Sully, attempting to escape a damaging situation he got himself into with a student, discovers the Arctic stories and the not-so-flattering portrayal of Stefansson—a man who won many awards and is credited with various discoveries. Finding some salvation in the parallels between their situations, Sully is able to come to terms with his mistakes and make a positive decision for his future.

This book serves as a nice introduction into Arctic exploration of the early 20th century, providing enticement for young readers to research further. It covers both the 1913 fateful voyage of the Karluk and Stefansson’s 1921 “experiment,” which included Ada. Aesthetically, the colors are pleasing with panels in pink, aqua, and yellow. The text is rather small and may be a problem for some readers. The author has provided an introduction, epilogue, and an after note regarding the character’s later adventures.