This dystopian adventure novel (296 pages) was published in July of 2012 by Text Publishing. The book takes you to the Alaskan tundra. Melissa read The Raven's Gift and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
John and his wife Anna are enthusiastic teachers, and they’ve just signed on for a grand adventure. They’re heading to a remote Yup’ik village in southwestern Alaska for new jobs and new lives.
But this adventure takes a dark turn that neither of them could have anticipated. An epidemic decimates their village, and they’re forced to quickly learn painful lessons about Alaskan history and its deadly climate.
The story unspools in alternating timelines that reveal John and Anna’s experience acclimating to life in the village, what happened in the village during the epidemic, and the effort to survive after the epidemic hits. Moving around in time this way ratchets up the tension until the full story is revealed.
We know from the first page that something has gone terribly wrong, and when it becomes clear that no one from Outside is going to help them, John sets out on a thousand-mile slog through bitter cold and his own fear to reach help. Even when his attitude is as bleak as the terrain around him, a tiny spark of hope flickers in his chest, driving his feet forward through the snow.
Author Don Rearden grew up on the tundra and rivers of Alaska, and a real-life epidemic in the late 1800s inspired this story. His prose, like the landscape it describes, is painfully beautiful — and he deftly blends elements of adventure, dystopian lit, suspense, and magical realism. His hero John is firmly grounded in the world of the Outsiders, but he’s assisted by native Yup’ik people who bring a touch of mythology and magic.
This is a bracing look at contemporary subsistence culture and the threat of epidemic in a climate where the weather is both an inciting incident and a character in this hero’s journey.
John bent down and pressed his hand into the tundra moss. The stuff fascinated him. Up close, he could see countless species of intricate sponge-like plants all connected to each other: lichens and moss and grass, roots, berries, mushrooms, flowers of all colors, all in the space of his hand. He pressed his fingers into the cool wet sponge and held it there for a moment. The ground felt alive. — Don Rearden
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.
Content on this site is ©2023 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.