Luke Healy weaves the mesmerizing but disparate tales of two expeditions to the Arctic a hundred years ago, and a modern-day college professor facing a scandal, in his stunning debut graphic novel, How to Survive in the North.
Healy’s art and narrative style is elegant, reminiscent of Herge’s classic Tintin books, but while the Arctic adventures somewhat fit that mold, the contemporary story—a professor’s affair with a student, and its repercussions—is more adult fare, which might bring into question the book’s recommended readership being listed as Grade 4 and up.
Each of the stories is compelling. The Arctic adventures are based on the real-life excursions of Ada Blackjack and Robert Bartlett, while Sully the college professor’s midlife crisis is a fictional tale.
Healy can express a multitude of emotions in one panel, or in a series of panels, as when Ada, an Eskimo woman alone and desperate for food, faces a polar bear near her tent. She prepares to shoot the bear until she notices its cub nearby, which sparks her own maternal instincts for the sick son she left behind.
The interconnections of the stories are sometimes subtle, but always strong, and as Sully finds meaning in the accounts of the Arctic expeditions, muttering, “They should have known better!” and “They didn’t think about the consequences,” it’s only natural that he should see the similarities to his own situation.
Healy’s first graphic novel is an impressive one, and highly recommended.
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