4 out of 4 stars
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One Arctic Night, written by D. F. Whibley, is a short young adult fiction book. It follows a young Inuit boy, Panuk, whose encounter with two Southerners teaches the trio the value of forgiveness and fairmindedness.
Panuk’s current worry is how to tack on some inches on his one-point-six-meter frame. He also longs to be a writer, applying to a school in Thunder Bay along with his friend Toklo. One morning, he wakes up to find his father groaning in discomfort, who, his mother informs him, will have to visit the hospital in Iqaluit to have his kidney stones removed. That leaves Panuk to temporarily take over his father’s job, acting as a guide for the visitors to the Arctic who wish to hunt caribou for their antlers. He ensures everything is ready, but when the tourists, Bobby ‘Bubba’ Wall and Daniel ‘D.T.’ Talone, arrive, they are rude and unfriendly, much to the quiet boy’s dismay. There is an unwritten law of the North, which states that never must anyone be turned away from shelter. The two men are vehemently opposed to this ideology until they find themselves at the mercy of a major storm. Set in the Arctic village Pangnirtung, this book drives home significant lessons.
This book is slotted under the young adult fiction genre, but I believe it can double as children’s fiction also. There are some simple digital illustrations that would be appealing to this audience, and the method of storytelling is reminiscent of a children’s tale. Panuk is at the middle-adolescent stage of development, but his narration is simple and easy to follow.
The primary themes of the story are those of forgiveness and kindness. Underscoring that is the fact that ignorance and stubbornness breed biases and racism, as well as how they can affect people subjected to these prejudices. I liked that I learned a little about the Inuit way of life, especially how they build their igloos, not with dry or wet snow but with wind-packed snow, and the unwritten law of the Arctic. We got a peek at their lifestyle through Panuk’s narration: how different their mannerisms are compared to those who live in large cities, their eating raw seal liver for its vitamins, how they hold sacred the practice of not wasting food sources, and even the passing around of the legend of the Qalupalik.
I rolled my eyes and cringed frequently at Bubba and D.T.’s insensitivity. Their unlikability was sold by their inhumane treatment of the native inhabitants of the place they’re visiting, their blatant disregard for the village’s ban on alcohol, their flat and tactless refusal of food offered in kindness, and their continued and offensive labelling of the people as ‘Eskimos’. One can almost blame this on their ignorance, but it’s no excuse for how absolutely boorish and ill-mannered they were. I disliked these two characters—at least until they underwent their turnaround and did some introspection.
The virtual lack of errors caused me to believe that this book has been professionally edited. Panuk mentions that he is told stories from the Bible by his father, but these are mostly focussed on the moral aspect and not delved into too deeply, so it shouldn’t affect anyone’s enjoyment of the story.
I rate this book a whopping four out of four stars. It’s fully deserving of this score, having only two errors and delivering a great storyline in its brevity. I recommend this book to those who like reading about Aboriginal cultures or parents wanting to teach their children lifelong lessons. Readers who like young adult fiction with more mature themes or those looking for adventurous plots would perhaps not find this book as enjoyable.
One Arctic Night
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