What’s on my nightstand? I Am the Ice Worm, by MaryAnn Easley.
Recently, my Recommended Reading list included a bunch of adventure novels from a list compiled by an Alaskan librarian. I was able to get my hands on a number of them, and this is the first of the lot.
Fourteen-year-old California girl, Allison, is on her way to Alaska to visit her mother who, since separating from Allison’s father, has taken a job teaching in a small village in the Arctic. Hey, I know people who teach in small Alaskan villages!
The small plane that is to take Allison to the village crashes in bad weather, and the pilot is killed. Allison is soon rescued by a Inupiat trapper and taken by dogsled to his tiny house in his tiny village. Allison’s culture shock is overwhelming. People crowd together in the smelly hut, eat strange oily food, and have no running water or bathroom.
In time, Allison convinces thirteen-year-old Matu to hitch up his dogs and take her to the coastal village where her mother is teaching. Bad weather stops their progress, and they are forced to camp out for several days until it passes. Matu, who knows nothing of pizza, pop music, or tv, knows how to survive the storm.
When they are able to travel again, Matu stops in a village still some distance from the coast and decides this is as far as he’s going. It’s time to hunt ptarmigan, not time to take a strange white girl to the coast. Allison is stuck in this new village, where she’s not too crazy about the villagers and they’re not too crazy about her. She must wait for the mail plane to arrive to take her the rest of the way to her mother, but no one knows when the mail plane will come; it doesn’t maintain a regular schedule.
Allison befriends a young girl from the home where she stays, and gets to know Oolik, a deaf, mute, and physically disabled girl who, like Allison herself, is a village outcast. Allison knows sign language from volunteering at a clinic after school, and she’s able to teach some to Oolik. For the first time in her life, Oolik is able to communicate with someone.
During her stay in the village, before she is reunited with her mother, Allison witnesses anger, violence, and cruelty amongst the residents, but also support, generosity, and kindness. Though villagers’ lives are endlessly different from her own, Allison discovers that they are complete, and in some small way are not so different from her own.
Though I often found the plot rushed, the Alaska details are nice, and Allison’s budding cultural awareness and tolerance is nicely drawn.
Your turn. What are you reading?