Luke Healy, How to Survive in the North, Walker Books Australia, 1 August 2016, 192pp., $29.99 (hbk), ISBN: 9781910620069
If judging books by their covers was a thing, How to Survive in the North would have been an immediate best-seller. This gorgeously rendered graphic novel (a novel in comic-strip format) follows three journeys- those of Captain Robert Bartlett, Eskimo woman Ada Blackjack, and fictional modern character Professor Sullivan ‘Sully’ Barnaby. As is probably made somewhat obvious by the book’s title, the novel weaves together the stories of two historical, real-life expeditions into the far north, seven years apart, and the fictional, 2013 based story of a shunned college professor who happens upon their journals in his campus library.
Captain Bob Bartlett is captain of a ship on an expedition into the north, searching for uncharted land. The other key members of his expedition, to whom we are introduced in his strips, include the scientist McKinlay, first mate Fred Maurer, and an Eskimo man, Kataktovik. Seven years later, Fred Maurer, now captain of his own expedition, and the rest of his crew, pick up single mother Ada Blackjack as a seamstress on their own mission north. Sully’s mid-life crisis in modern times and the reoccurrence of Maurer and various places from both expeditions link the three stories together.
Overall, I personally did not find the book overly gripping- it wasn’t necessarily a strenuous read, but neither was it an easy one. Although each storyline has a clever and specific colour scheme to distinguish the different characters and timelines, the novel, at times, jumped rather erratically and randomly between the different stories, making it somewhat of a head-spin – hard for me to be able to keep track of what was happening to whom and whereabouts in their expedition they were. However, the vignette graphics were beautifully drawn, and it did provide some interesting historical facts about north-bound expeditions.
Overall, some mature themes in the books make it unsuitable for younger readers, but it would be a great read for anyone interested in, a) graphic novels, b) north-bound expeditions and the icy territories of the top of the world, and c) anyone who is, in particular, focused on Ada Blackjack and Robert Bartlett’s expeditions. A gorgeously rendered book with a well-written storyline, suitable for anyone over the ages of 13-14, How to Survive in the North is worth a peek for any historical fans.
Reviewed by Amy Cooper