Ruby impatiently waits for the plane to land in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Dad is currently in the Arctic photographing wildlife in
the dark winter near the Arctic Circle. Ruby and her father, Matt, have been planning this Christmas visit for some time chatting frequently on their special blog.
She has learned much about survival in the harsh conditions from Dad and she is ready to show him her Arctic clothing, gloves and goggles. The journey from the U.K. has been long and she is ready to throw herself in his arms.
Mom is circumspect about this visit. She and Dad have drifted apart after years of disagreement over care for 10-year old Ruby. Yasmin fears these protracted visits to remote areas of the world have created a rift in their marriage that might not be overcome. Although Ruby and Matt have deepened their bond through frequent online communication, Matt and Yasmin have not been shared much of their lives for quite some time.
Although both parents are equally concerned about Ruby’s education and socialization, they differ on how best to prepare her for her future. Ruby has been deaf since birth.
Ruby is highly intelligent, precocious and highly adaptive. She has a gregarious nature hidden in her silent world that she desperately wants the world to see. Her disinterest in the typical 10-year old angst alienates her from her school mates. Ruby has no friends and is bullied by peers.
She withdraws into her silent world preferring to communicate through sign language and her laptop. Much to Yasmin’s consternation she refuses to “use her mouth voice” to reduce her isolation. Her retreat into social media and her laptop to express herself disturbs Yasmin.
As Yasmin learns that the news about Matt, Ruby uses her finely honed skills of observation to try and learn why her father has not arrived.
Matt was staying in a remote Alaskan village that suffered a terrible fire and everyone perished. The ruins were searched and Matt’s wedding ring was returned to Yasmin as proof of his death.
Shielding Ruby from this news, Yashmin refuses to believe he is dead and can’t believe the authorities haven’t launched a rescue mission. Unable to convince anyone to help her, Yasmin begins an ill-advised journey with Ruby in tow on the Dalton Highway, the “ice-road” to this village to rescue Matt.
Yasmin’s story, told in the third person, is nicely woven into Ruby’s first person account of the journey as it unfolds. I felt like I was riding shotgun with Ruby experiencing the unimaginable isolation of the wilderness. As it becomes apparent there is a dark and sinister plot to keep Yasmin from reaching the village, I felt the despondency and regret Yasmin feels at jeopardizing Ruby’s safety. Ruby’s deafness and inability to hear danger terrifies Yasmin.
Lupton grafts the cold into your bones and chills your mind. When Yasmin puts the snow chains on the vehicle in a howling -50 degree blizzard, I shuddered. The closer Yasmin gets to the Arctic Circle, the more that danger from nature and man threatens their survival, Ruby and her mother find ways to overcome the odds. Totally unrealistic and highly entertaining.
Communication, whether verbally, through sign language or the application of technology, was critical in this story. Cold weather and geography can eliminate that false sense of security provided by a cell phone.
There were times on the ice-road that I wanted to move the story along but having driven at night on icy mountainous roads myself, I know that fear prolongs the experience.
Fracking, greed and environment issues play pivotal roles but so do altruism, faith and love. There’s the usual cast of bad and good guys to thwart or help the girls. The conclusion wraps things up nicely, just as predictable as the next snow storm in Alaska.