It’s a nightmare for any traveller. For Yasmin, it’s even harder news to take than it would be for anyone else. Her young daughter Ruby is completely deaf. They’d travelled to Alaska a few weeks earlier than planned because of a marital crisis. The last exchanges between Yasmin and Matt had been… difficult, to say the least.
The circumstances of Matt’s death are odd enough that Yasmin convinces herself that he can’t be dead: an entire Inuit village has burnt down, with every single resident dead. Bodies are burnt beyond all recognition. The police identified Matt by the fact that there was one more body than they expected to find, and, after a little research, they heard that a nature photographer had been staying at the village and assumed it’s Matt. That’s not enough to convince Yasmin: she becomes convinced that Matt may now be in danger, caught out in the Alaskan winter, thousands of miles from civilisation, with no one looking for him.
The rest of the novel tells of Yasmin’s and Ruby’s quest to find Matt. It’s an enchanting and gripping read, not so much for its thrills and cliffhangers, but because Yasmin and Ruby are wonderful characters easy to identify with and feel for. The mother-daughter relationship is completely convincing. Reading about a deaf little girl has lots of potential to pull at heart strings, but this is not a novel that ‘plays the deaf angle’ for tearjerking / inspirational tosh. Instead, it’s a novel about a very convincing, intelligent, young, deaf girl, and her mother, who struggles with wanting the best for her child even if that isn’t always the easiest path at the moment.
The Alaskan setting provides a grand canvas for their quest and conflicts, with plenty of natural peril. It enriches the story and serves to isolate Ruby and Yasmin in a way that few places on Earth could match. It’s impossible not to get heavily invested in their story as they try to make their way from Anchorage to Anaktakue (the destroyed Inuit hamlet).
Some things in the book are utterly authentic: Alaska, the ice highway, the relationships between Yasmin and Ruby and Matt – it all feels almost as if the story were biographical. But, at the end of the day, it’s a thriller. Certain plot developments are… cinematic. They don’t feel entirely authentic.
That said, the book is a pleasure to read. It’s gripping, engrossing, and heartwarming at times. I’d recommended it for pretty much every one who likes to read, and anyone who likes their books to put them in different shoes, in faraway places.