What could it be???
I wasn't expecting a package. I LOVE packages! I eagerly tore it open, and inside:
I know Terry! This must be Terry Lynn Johnson!
I hope MY books have covers that good one day...
IT WAS! It was her newly released book, ICE DOGS, a Middle Grade contemporary adventure that I had been WAITING for ever since she and I had shared a room at an SCBWI conference way back in…let me see now…2012???
Yeah, I wanted this!
My first reaction was, HOLY ICE DOGS, LOOK AT THAT COVER! I mean, just LOOK at it! It's gorgeous! It looks like someone opened the gates to Narnia and a sled dog is walking through them right now. I wanted to get lost in that book.
Unfortunately for me, so did Kidlet Number One, and he snagged it before I could, the sneaky little sneaker.
He read it in an afternoon. This is an indication of just how good ICE DOGS is.
And then: MY TURN! First, a short intro. Here's the flap copy:
That's how the fourteen-year-old dog-sledder Victoria Secord has felt ever since her father died. A champion musher, Victoria is independent, self-reliant, and, thanks to her father, an expert in surviving the unforgiving Alaskan bush. When an injured "city boy" and a freak snowstorm both catch Victoria and her dog team by surprise, however, a routine trip becomes a life-or-death trek through the frozen wilderness. As temperatures drop and food stores run out, Victoria must find a way to save them all in this high-stakes, high-adventure middle grade novel of endurance, hope, and finding your way back home.
This is a book that delivers. From the very first page, I was drawn into Victoria's world: the sights and sounds of a race, the tension, the way the dogs scratch and claw in anticipation… The writing crackles with description. Every detail is painted so clearly, but with exactly the right amount of sparsity, that I felt as if I was watching it play out in a film reel in my head. And the author's choice of first person, present tense lends an immediacy to the writing that is perfect for this story.
I also loved how much I learned from this book. As Victoria and Chris (the injured "city boy") navigate the Alaskan wilderness, they rig up snares to hunt for game, follow carrion birds to find food, build fires, snow camp, care for injured dogs…and that's just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. I have some limited experience with snow camping and wilderness survival from my College days in the Berkshires, but what the kids do in this book is something else. The insights into life as a dog sledder are so clear, I feel almost as if you could plonk me in the winter wilderness and I'd survive. (The rational part of me knows that's not the case - DON'T TRY THAT AT HOME, KIDS - but it's an indication of the quality of writing that the imaginative part of me believes it.)
The only part that I didn't absolutely love was the way Chris came into the story. For the first few chapters after we met him, his character struck me as "off" - a little too weird, a little too unpredictable, and a little too unwilling to talk. In hindsight, I think this is all related to the accident that injured him, but while I was reading, I was half-trusting the author to take this to a good place, and half-wondering if he was going to turn out to be a rapist or amateur highway robber or something. As awful as it would have been for Chris, I kind of wanted Victoria to leave him behind at the beginning. Either way, it definitely ramped up the tension! (Not-really spoiler: It's good that she didn't leave him behind. He's not a rapist. This IS a middle grade book, guys…)
Finally, the way Victoria's handling of the issues with her mother is woven through the action of the book is so smooth, I didn't even notice it until the book was over. I cried a little at the end, guys. That doesn't happen often.
This is a finely paced page-turner of a novel that both keeps the adrenaline pumping and tugs at the heartstrings. It is a fine piece of writing, and a perfect autumn read! FOUR STARS.