Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Alaska Connection Makes All The Difference

The pre-teen girl who is an outsider in her new school is a staple in contemporary children's literature, as is the child who suddenly finds herself with divorced parents. Eleven-year-old Rigel Harman in 365 Days to Alaska by Cathy Carr is both those things. The irresponsible husband/father is a character who shows up all over childlit, too. (As well as all over adult lit, movies, and TV shows.) He's in 365 Days to Alaska, also, as the stimulus for the divorce that leads Rigel, her two sisters, and their mother to move in with Rigel's grandmother. 

That sounds like a lot of the same old thing, but what 365 Days to Alaska has going for it is Alaska. 

The Harman children have lived all their lives in Alaska, and not city Alaska, whatever that may be, but out in the bush. And the grandmother they move in with is in suburban Connecticut. I do not mean a cliched Gilmore Girls rich Connecticut grandmother. (No, I am not a Gilmore fan.) But for Rigel and her sisters, moving into a house with more than one bathroom, a dishwasher, and a TV makes their mother's mother a sort of rich Connecticut grandmother. 

For Rigel, who loved Alaska and thinks she's going back in 365 days to live with that irresponsible father (adult readers can predict how that's going to end), the transition to Connecticut is realistically difficult. We're not just talking I miss my friends, I need to make new friends. We're talking a true cultural change that Rigel, unlike her sisters, is not motivated to make.

Carr trusts the importance of the basic situation/struggle she's created for Rigel, and she doesn't load  her and this book up with one distracting problem after another, as we often see in children's books. Rigel's older sister isn't a monster teenager. Grandma isn't rigid and conforming or suffering from dementia. Mom has her own realistic but bearable problem transitioning back into the work world, and it doesn't overwhelm her to the point that she can't support Rigel when she needs it. The mean popular kids are realistically mean, and the outsider unpopular kids may not be all that unpopular since they have their own network of friends.

365 Days to Alaska is a very well done, readable book and proves that you can take cliched or classic situations (however you want to view them) and make them fresh by adding a new element and some good writing.

No comments: