Middle Grade Review: Northwind, by Gary Paulson


Title: Northwind
Author: Gary Paulsen
Publication Info: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2022. 256 pages
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher’s Blurb:
When a deadly plague reaches the small fish camp where he lives, an orphan named Leif is forced to take to the water in a cedar canoe. He flees northward, following a wild, fjord-riven shore, navigating from one danger to the next, unsure of his destination. But the deeper into his journey he paddles, the closer he comes to his truest self as he connects to "the heartbeat of the ocean . . . the pulse of the sea."

With hints of Nordic mythology and an irresistible narrative pull, Northwind is Gary Paulsen at his captivating, adventuresome best.
My Review:
When I saw this on the library web site last fall, I had to put myself on the holds list, and was lucky to get a copy as soon as it came out. It is Gary Paulsen's last book, but as he says in the afterword, he has been writing it all his life. I think it feels like his culminating celebration of the wild and his love of adventure.

Unlike many of his books, this one isn't a high-speed adventure. In some ways, I wouldn't call it an adventure at all. It certainly has some elements of survival, but Leif is not cast into an unfamiliar milieu without resources. Instead, he is at home in the waters, has the skills and resources he needs and is used to, and has only to hone those skills and learn to pay attention in a way that he never needed to while living in a community. The result is a book that feels like a meditation on wilderness and emotional self-reliance. Not a bad book for me right now.

I was a little bothered as I read by the sense of place, or rather by some confusion in that sense. The names and other aspects of the story make it feel like it must be set on the coast of Norway, and yet to me the geography felt like SE Alaska. Some of that is due to similarities between the two. I found when I read the author's note at the end that he deliberately melded  the two into a more or less mythical setting. When I embraced that, it worked well, and I kind of wished the note had been at the beginning.

My Recommendation:
I think this is a beautiful book (and a beautiful cover, right?), and I can recommend it for adults and for children over about 10 who are patient with a story that doesn't leap from thing to thing, but models quiet and thoughtfulness.

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of Northwind from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”   

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2022
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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