The Edge of Nowhere by John E Smelcer

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The Edge of Nowhere by John E Smelcer

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Nail-biting Ray Mears style tale of survival set in the wilds of Alaska.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: August 2010
Publisher: Andersen Press Ltd
ISBN: 978-1849391962

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Could you survive in the wilds of Alaska if you were washed overboard from a fishing boat during a storm and somehow, amazingly, managed to make it to dry land? This is the challenge facing Seth and his loyal dog, Tucker. They are out on Seth's father's fishing boat during a terrible storm and neither Seth's dad or his friend realise that the boy and dog have been washed overboard until they reach home and are found to be missing from the boat. A search party is sent out, but Seth is assumed drowned. Luckily, Seth and his dog manage to get to one of the tiny islands that run along the coast of Alaska, and after realising that no one is coming to help them they slowly make their way hundreds of miles over many months. Will they starve to death, or freeze, or be eaten by bears before they manage to make it home?

This is a tale of triumph in the face of adversity. Seth has nothing going for him at the start of the book. His mother died a year before, his relationship with his father has deteriorated since then. He is overweight, eating only junk food, and keeps himself to himself all the time, playing video games and listening to music. Being tossed overboard during the storm turns out to be the best thing that could have happened to him. As he slowly tries to make his way home he finds that he is starting to remember tales his grandmother told him of his Alutiiq ancestry, long-forgotten words for the wildlife he meets along the way and old folk tales. As he's forced to struggle to survive, finding foods he can eat raw, making shelters for himself and his dog, hiding from bears, he begins to learn lessons about himself. He remembers how happy his family used to be, and begins to understand his own, and his father's, grief.

I enjoyed this story which felt very cinematic - I could easily imagine a film adaptation. There is little to like about Seth at the start, and to be honest I was more worried about his dog Tucker, but as he faces so many challenges, and shows such strength of character I was willing him to survive. The landscape of Alaska comes to life through the story, and any children who are interested in Ray Mears or tales of survival would definitely enjoy hearing about how Seth manages to find a way to survive and the determination to try to find his way back home.

I occasionally felt that the father's side of the story intruded into Seth's a little too much. It interrupted Seth's isolation somehow to be suddenly back in the real world finding out what his dad was doing. A lot of the story is very practical description orientated, so we read how Seth manages to swim from island to island, how he catches fish to eat or builds a shelter. Because of this it felt, dare I say it, like quite a boyish story. This isn't to say that girls won't like it too, but it is very much an action adventure tale. There were emotional moments too, and Seth's father's dedication to finding his son, refusing to believe he is dead, I found very moving. I also liked the inclusion of the Alutiiq words through the story, with each chapter titled with the number in Alutiiq as well as a brief segment from a folk tale. These all help to create the Alaskan flavour of the book.

This is a great, fairly short, adventure story - very easy to read and it only made me cry once! I'd certainly recommend it to pre-teens and teens who love to escape into a good book.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag. We also have a review of Smelcer's The Great Death.

Further reading suggestion: Any readers considering an outward-bound survival trip of their own might do well to read these before they go:

Serious Survival: How to Poo in the Arctic and Other Essential Tips for Explorers by Marshall Corwin

The Ultimate Survival Guide For Boys by Mike Flynn

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