Esteemed Canadian author Farley Mowat died this past May, a few days before his 93rd birthday. Having read Never Cry Wolf in grade 8, it was more than time to read another one of his many tales. He was a respected environmentalist and was reported to have sold 17 million books, translated into 52 languages.
The book begins with Jamie, an orphaned teen, leaving Toronto to move in with his Uncle Angus who lived in the North. His parents had been killed in a car accident and Jamie had been “living” in a boarding school before making his trek North. After joining his uncle, he grew to love the North and became best friends with a Cree teenager named Awasin.
The Cree village has a visit from a Chippewan chief who reports that his tribe is starving. The boys travel North to the barrens with the tribe and end up on a deer hunt. During the trip, the boys are left to wait for the main hunting party and their curiosity gets the best of them. They travel downriver searching for the Great Stone House and their canoe is ruined by rapids which nearly take their lives. After this disaster, they become separated from the rest of the party and end up stranded in the dangerous barrens and on an adventure of their lives.
The boys are very industrious and prepare for the winter using knowledge that they combine from Jamie’s upbringing in Toronto and from Awasin’s Cree teachings. They problem solve and learn from trial and error as they build a shelter, prepare food, sew warm clothing from skins which ensures a chance at their safety in the midst of the brutal winter weather. They struggle against poaching wolverines, fight a bear and befriend two sled dogs who help lead to their rescue. The boys work together, stay alive and eventually return back to their homes safely.
It is a story of two boys coming of age in the great Canadian North. They must persevere and collaborate if they are to reach safety. The text is beautifully written and portrays not only Canadian heritage but the vast land that we must appreciate. This is a story that would be terrific in high school English or history classes.