Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Between Two Worlds by Katherine Kirkpatrick [Review]

Between Two Worlds2.5 out of 5 Robots!

Between Two Worlds by Katherine Kirkpatrick
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Release: April 8, 2014
Hardcover:  304 Pages
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
My Copy: Publisher
Reviewer: Shannon

Book Summary:
On the treeless shores of Itta, Greenland, as far north as humans can settle, sixteen-year-old Inuit Billy Bah spots a ship far out among the icebergs on the bay--a sight both welcome and feared. Explorers have already left their indelible mark on her land and its people, and a ship full of white men can mean trouble.

The ship carries provisions for Robert E. Peary, who is making an expedition to the North Pole. As a child, Billy Bah spent a year in America with Peary's family. When her parents went to America years later, they died in a tragic scandal. Now, Peary's wife, daughter, and crew are in Itta to bring him supplies. Winter comes on fast, and when the ship gets caught in the ice, Billy Bah sets out to find Peary. The journey will imperil her life, and that of the man she loves.

By turns lyrical and gripping, Between Two Worlds is an impassioned coming-of-age novel set in a land of breathtaking beauty and danger, where nature and love are powerful and unpredictable forces.

(Courtesy of the Publisher)

Shannon's Thoughts:
I won this book in a reading challenge and while it wasn't my normal read, I was intrigued about the story being told from Billy Bah's perspective and from a culture that I am not extremely familiar with.  And while Kirkpatrick does an admirable job of trying to incorporate Inuit customs into her story, overall the book fell a little flat for me.

The first problem I had was with the narration style.  It read more like a middle reader book than YA, but contained some more grown-up themes like marriage, babies, and sex.  It seem incongruous.  The other issue is that Billy Bah's narration is very much lacking in depth and emotion.  And unfortunately a lot of the storytelling falls into "telling" instead of "showing".  Billy Bah says she feels these emotions, but I never felt them with her.  It read a little too clinical and "history book" for me.

The other, and more dangerous issue, is how the Inuit are presented.  I loved the attempt to explain Inuit life in 1900, but it felt like an outsider perspective looking in.  Because at the end of the day, what did I take away about Inuit life?  I learned they like to eat raw meat, that they weren't very clean by Western standards, that they traded their wives for sex for goods and favors, and that dead ancestors could be reborn as newborns.  Perhaps the most troublesome aspect was how often Billy Bah's husband traded her to other men, especially the white sailors.  Now, this may have been a common practice.  I don't know.  But the book spends a lot of time on it and it leads to an awkward love triangle between Billy Bah, her husband, and a white sailor named Duncan.  I would have much preferred if the story focused more on how Inuit life was changed by Peary.  Or even Billy Bah's trip to America.  I don't feel like I understand Inuit life any better, other than the focus on what is different.  Even though this was told from an Inuit perspective, I feel like the "otherness" and "strangeness" was focused heavily on and it rubbed me the wrong way.

Overall, I felt this book could have been more. It lacked sympathy, emotion and depth.  I felt like I was reading a kid's history book instead of a compelling story about a young Inuit whose life was forever changed when she met Robert Peary and his family.

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