Two early-20th-century expeditions intertwine with a 21st-century story in Healy’s debut graphic novel.
Retellings of the Arctic adventures of Robert Bartlett, a white ship’s captain, and Ada Blackjack, an “Eskimo” seamstress, unspool alongside the present-day midlife crisis of Sully Barnaby, a white university professor who is researching the two figures. In 1913, Capt. Bartlett resignedly sets sail from Nome, Alaska, at the behest of the overzealous (and irresponsible) explorer Vilhjamur Stefansson and a bevy of scientists with their sights set on the Arctic. In 1921, also in Nome, Ada Blackjack agrees to be the seamstress on an expedition to claim an Arctic island for Canada, leaving her ailing son behind, in the hope of earning enough money to get him treatment. And in 2013, Sully’s affair with a male student has been sussed out, and the middle-aged professor reluctantly begins his mandatory sabbatical by exploring Stefansson’s papers and learning about Bartlett’s and Blackjack’s journeys. The novel alternates among the three strands, overlapping people and events, fact and fiction, in an intricate narrative pattern of challenge, crisis, and survival for each of the three protagonists. Healy’s command of visual storytelling coupled with a palette of pastels reminiscent of the northern lights provides the thread of continuity that holds the weave together.
Two parts historical, one part invention, a quiet contemplation and celebration of the tenacity of the human spirit. (afterword, author’s note) (Graphic novel. 14 & up)