Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

When her mother refuses to drive her over to see about buying some new sled dogs, Victoria Secord, 14, an experienced and competitive dog musher, decides to take her dogs and sled and go by herself.  Jeremy Cook has a winning team, but now he's lost his job and may be getting out of competitive dog sledding.  Vicky thinks she has a good chance of winning the White Wild Classic dog sled race and honoring her dad's memory if she can get some good, strong sled dogs, Vicky figures she can get to Cook's and back before dark, so she packs the minimal amount of what she will need for the trip, hooks up the dogs and leaves.

But Vicky and the dogs now sooner set off, when she notices the sky darkening and that means snow, which happens just as she also realizes she hasn't found the right trail yet.  Then she notices a crashed snowmobile and a boy about her age lying in the snow, bleeding.  His name is Chris, he's from Toronto, and is a smart mouth who knows nothing about serious snow.

Thinking she can get Chris home quickly, Vicky take a trail that she doesn't know.  But, as the two journey on together and the snow turns into a blizzard, they get completely lost.  Vicky's dad had taught her good survival skills and now she must put them all to use.

The two teens end up spending days in the wilderness, facing incredible odds - hunger, wild animals and dangerous landscapes.  Vicky is angry at Chris for snowmobiling without knowing what or where he was going, and she is convinced he's useless, but it turns out he has an unusual skill that proves to be very useful to their plight.

And Vicky's anger goes much deeper than Chris.  She's angry at her dad for dying, especially considering the way he dies, angry at herself for not being there with him, and angry at her mom for not loving dogs, dog sledding and Alaska as much as she and her father.  Vicky needs more than anything to come to terms with all these issues and there is nothing like the challenges of raw nature to get to the bottom of things.

Ice Dogs is a real nail biter of a novel.  Even realizing that Vicky knows how to use the survival skills she has been taught, I still found myself sitting on the edge of my seat.  Vicky makes the reader well aware of the dangers she, Chris and the dogs face - dehydration and hp\ypothermia being the greatest of these, even more than predatory wolves or mean moose, and that it can all happen so quickly.

Terry Lynn Johnson's description of the Alaskan landscape that Vicky and Chris find themselves in was so realist that I could feel the cold, hear the wind, appreciate how quickly night seems to come so far up north. That's good writing! And I found myself envying the bond that Vicky has with her dogs, especially Bean, her favorite.  That's love, no doubt culled from Johnson's own feelings about dogs in general, and her own dogs in particular.

Only two things could have made this an even better books for me.  One would have been a map of the area between Vicky's home and Jermey Cook's place showing where she and Chris traveled.  The other would have been a picture showing the parts of a dog sled and how it works.  Otherwise...

this is an exciting coming of age story that should appeal to most young readers and I can't recommend it enough.  It would pair very nicely with another survival story, Ultra by David Carroll, the 2013 Cybils Middle Grace Fiction winner.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL


  1. Great review, and you certainly make this one sound like a keeper! Wondering it if would be a bit too much for my advanced third grader readers in terms of danger and suspense, but I may have to check it out myself. Thanks for sharing with #KidLitBlogHop today!

  2. This sounds like an exciting read! I'm adding Ice Dogs to our reading list. My son will love this one! It's a pleasure to connect with you on the Kid Lit Blog Hop :).

  3. The setting reminds me of Jack London's stories ~ I used to LOVE his books! It sounds like the story covers a lot of different themes. Thanks for joining us in the Kid Lit Blog Hop.


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