Northwind by Gary Paulsen starts like a fable, with “The Saga of the Sea Child.”

It’s an interesting way to start a book – my one complaint is that the font it’s printed in is difficult to read. All caps with very little punctuation.

Which I guess makes it feel more like the reader is stepping into a fable than into real life.

The story follows Leif, the Sea Child of the prologue. Now he is nearly a man – a teenager at least – living in a fish camp with other sailors on a rugged seashore somewhere in Scandinavia, or Canadian Northwest. The water is cold. The salmon and berries are plentiful, as are the orca, whales and dolphins.

A death ship visits the camp – at least that is what Leif comes to consider it – bringing an illness that kills all the men. Old Carl send Leif and Little Carl out in the canoe the men had made and tells Leif to “Go North!” to escape the illness.

But they hadn’t escaped the illness. Little Carl dies, and Leif nearly does. The rest of the book is Leif’s battle to survive on his own in the wilderness, and on the sea. He develops keep observation skills to figure out if his landing place is safe from bears, to handle the ocean swells in the large bay he encounters.

And he learned:

“That simple.

You lived or you died.

And in between the two, if you kept your mind open and aware and listened and smelled and watched…

In between you learned.”

Northwind is Gary Paulsen’s last book, published after his death last year. It is true Paulsen – boy vs. wild – yet set in a time long past.

Highly recommended for ages 10 and up.

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