Far North focuses on two young boys, Gabe Rogers and his roommate at a boarding school in the Northwest Territories near Yukon, Raymond. Gabe's father works in one of the northernmost parts of Canada and Gabe has decided to live up there for the school-year. His mother passed away when he was younger and he was staying with his grandparents in Texas when he chose to seek this opportunity. He wanted to be closer to his father. Raymond, a Dene Indian, is from a place not far from the boarding school. They two board a bushplane; Gabe goes to sightsee the wilderness, Raymond to go home because he wants to leave the boarding school. Raymond's Great Uncle, Johnny Raven, tags along as well, although he speaks Slavey, an old native language, and cannot communicate very well with the others. On the bush plane, Clint, the young flier, decides to take a detour to show them the vast beauty of the wild. Unfortunately, things go awry and the plane makes a crash landing and Clint perishes while the others are stuck in the wilderness with little hope for survival as the plane's transmitter is gone and inoperable. The themes that are present in the novel can relate to many young adult readers, whether or not they are familiar with the backdrop. The great thing about the novel is that not only does it teach the themes evident in the text, but it also engulfs the reader because so many are unfamiliar with the setting and Hobbs writes and illustrates northern Canada beautifully. One great thing about many of Hobbs' books is they have a reference map at the beginning of the text to give the reader a sense of where the action takes place in the text.
Throughout the novel there are several instances where Gabe and Raymond lose all sight of hope. Although a young adult reader may not always find themselves trapped out in the wilderness, many young people suffer from losing hope, be it in something such as a basketball game, or in a family member. There are many instances of this, and how Gabe and Raymond make it out of the treacherous conditions near the Nahanni Butte provides young readers with a message that we should never lose hope, always keep trying, and know that as long as we do our best, that is what counts. Although Raymond and Gabe lost hope several times, especially after they encounter the ice bridge that falters, the bear steals half of their moose meat, and Raymond's leg is in severe pain, they struggle through and, eventually, they overcome great odds and survive. They survive not only in spite of these incidents, but in spite of the fact that they are just young boys in one of the most remote places in North America, in the worst of the seasons. It truly gives inspiration to not just a young adult, but any reader.
Johnny Raven serves as a mentor in the story even though communication is limited. Johnny speaks very little English, and Raymond speaks very little Slavey, Johnny's native tongue. Fortunately for the two boys Johnny is with them when the plane crashes. He has survived out in the harsh cold of the winter in the Northern Territories and does not see as great a challenge as Raymond and Gabe envision. Johnny's character in this young adult novel serves as one that young readers can see as a man with wisdom. It helps young readers to respect not only the elderly more, but customs and traditions that are from generations ago. The novel isn't necessarily multi-cultural, but Johnny Raven is that character. If it wasn't for him, chances are that the boys would not have survived their first few days out in the bush. Johnny kills a moose for them and the boys are able to eat, shortly before he passes away. He leaves a note, that was thankfully translated into English, that although wasn't intended to give the boys hope of survival, serves as an inspiration to lead the boys to keep going and never give up. "And so I say to you: take care of the land, take care of yourself, take care of each other." These words of Johnny's give the boys all they need to keep trying and keep fighting to live.
A theme we see is very common in YA lit, Death strikes when Clint, and eventually Johnny, die. The boys didn't know Clint very well, but when he dies, everything changes. It is alluded to early on that Clint may perish as there is a reference that many bush pilots don't survive into retirement. Johnny's death, as aforementioned, leads to a loss of will and hope for the boys. Death in nature is all around them. Nearly nothing is alive except trees and scarce animals for food. This is what winter means in northern Canada. The book also touches on the death of Gabe's mother who passed away when he was young. Gabe talks about his longing for her sometimes and things that remind him of her. Death is apparent in the text as it is pragmatic: death happens to everyone, everywhere, at any given time. It is unexpected, jarring, and emotional. The way that Gabe and Raymond deal with it is amazing. They are resilient. They know that if they focus too much on death, that they will lose their hope and chance for survival. So they trek on, albeit tough, and at the end of the text pay homage to the dead, particularly Johnny Raven.
Gabe's mother passed away when he was young and his father has been working in the far reaches of the Northern Territories. He had been living with his grandparents and felt that he needed more time with his father, so he moved thousands of miles away to a foreign land with unpredictable weather. The theme is present in the novel to give the young reader a sense that there are many people who live without a parent growing up, and although its hard, we find ways to cope. Some of us cannot live without our parent and go through great odds to see them. In the end, Gabe just wants someone to be close to and his father realizes this as well, and their relationships is stronger because of that.
This is the most apparent of all the themes, clearly. The struggle to survive, the basic human instinct that kicks in whenever we sense danger. The boys endure this countless times throughout the novel. Through the survival, however, the boys mature and grow. It is certainly a coming-of-age story, as they make the transition from boys to survivors, and thus, men. It may be cliche, but it is certainly true. This poignant theme shows how even in the grittiest conditions, we all have the innate ability to fight to live, the one thing that we have to cling onto. Death or survival. The boys consistently choose the latter and this theme tells the young reader that although times may be tough and things may seem difficult, we must fight through them. Life will assuredly throw you curve balls, but as long as one has the will to survive, even in the harshest, most bare of conditions, that strength and will to survive will help one overcome many odds.
If you enjoyed Far North and are looking for something similar to read beyond the titles I discuss, Will Hobbs' novels follow a similar pattern and style. There are three other I would like to recommend as well:
Far North has received many accolades and awards, including:
Best Books for Young Adults, American Library Association (ALA)
Top Ten Young Adult Books for l996 (ALA)
One of the "100 Best of the Best" Young Adult Books of the 20th Century (ALA)
Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (ALA)
Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies (NCSS/CBC)
Winner, Western Writers of America Spur Award
Young Adult Choices, International Reading Association (IRA)
Books for the Teenage, New York Public Library
Winner, Colorado Book Award (Colorado Center for the Book)
VOYA "Books in the Middle" Outstanding Titles of l996
Foreign Editions: Germany
Hobbs, W. (1996). Far North . New York: Morrow Junior Books.
Will Hobbs Official Website - Far North. (n.d.). Children's Book Author. Retrieved April 16, 2011, from http://www.willhobbsauthor.com/bookspages/farnorthpage.html