Tuesday, January 19, 2021

365 Days to Alaska

Carr, Cathy. 365 Days to Alaska
January 19th 2021 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Rigel (RYE-gul) lives with her family (dad Bear, mom Lila, older sister Willow, and five year old sister Izzy) in a small cabin in the wilds of Alaska. She's used to bringing water from a nearby stream, doing correspondence courses by mail, and having wilderness right outside her door. After her parents divorce, her mother decides to move the girls to Connecticut so that she can live with her own mother while she tries to get a job in a research lab. While Willow is excited to be able to attend high school and do "normal" things, and Izzy is ready for any new adventures, Rigel is apprehensive. She agrees with Bear that the suburban world is loud and plastic, and she is glad when he tells her she just has to spend a year there before he will get enough money working on the pipeline to have her come back and live with him. Starting 6th grade is tough-- other children laugh at her stories, and sitting in a classroom is confining. Rigel is glad when she makes the acquaintance of Corey, who is also the target of some of the popular kids, and also when she sees an injured crow outside of the school. She starts feeding the crow, and hanging around with Corey and his friends Sylvie and Sam, who have an informal "nature club". Rigel has trouble settling in to school, and her teacher Mrs. Green, who seems to favor the popular girls, doesn't help. Rigel brings a dead animal to school and puts it in her locker to feed to the crow, but Hayden snoops in her locker and reports it. At one point, she brings the crow (which she has named Blueberry) into the building to show to her sympathetic science teacher, and it gets loose, causing a ruckus. Rigel is suspended for two days, and really wants to go back to Alaska. Her father hasn't been very communicative, however, and when she finds out why, she realizes that while Connecticut isn't perfect, it isn't bad, and perhaps she can stay there longer than one year. 
Strengths: This had a really good blend of realistic problems and unusual circumstances. I liked that Rigel wasn't happy about the things going on in her life,  but made a plan to get through them, and ended up doing fairly well. The details about living in a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness were fascinating, and seeing suburban life through Rigel's eyes was illuminating. Older sister Willow was a fun character, and it was good to see her help Rigel out, but also to see her struggle with her own teen problems. The grandmother was delightful, and even the mother was an engaging character. Rigel's friend group was awfully similar to the one I had in middle school; you just need a couple of good friends to help you get through. I loved Corey's refusal to give Hayden any  more ammunition or power over him, and loved that Rigel was able to pick up those skills as well. 
Weaknesses: Mrs. Green and Hayden were rather over the top in their meanness, but I can forgive this because the children were soon banned from eating in the library or in classrooms. In my school, everyone needs to go to the cafeteria so they can all be monitored, and we have classes in the library all day! I didn't even let my own children eat lunch in the library!
What I really think: This is an impressive debut novel, and I will be VERY interested to see what else Ms. Carr writes. 

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