Friday, April 27, 2018

Polaris by Michael Northrop, 2017

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Alone at sea, with only the stars to guide them...

The proud sailing ship Polaris is on a mission to explore new lands, and its crew is eager to bring their discoveries back home. But when half the landing party fails to return from the Amazon jungle, the tensions lead to a bloody mutiny. The remaining adults abandon ship, leaving behind a cabin boy, a botanist's assistant, and a handful of deckhands -- none of them older than twelve. Troubled by whispers of a strange tropical illness and rumors of a wild beast lurking onshore, the young sailors are desperate to steer the vessel to safety. When one of their own already missing and a strange smell drifting up from belowdecks, the novice crew begins to suspect that someone -- or something -- else is onboard. Having steeled themselves for the treacherous journey home, they now have more to fear than the raging waters of the Atlantic...

(288 pages)

Hmm. Wow. This is definitely very . . . different from the books I usually read.

For one thing, I usually don't go for books set on ships. I just don't find the pirate/mutiny/ship trouble stories very interesting, so I definitely would not have picked up Polaris on my own. But since Scholastic went to the trouble of sending me a copy, I had the interesting experience of picking up a book outside of my usual reading habits.

And I enjoyed it. Polaris is a very interesting blend of sci-fi and historical fiction, full of ship sailing details as well as horrifying scientific advancements. I scoffed at the sci-fi premise when it was first revealed in detail–and I still scoff, since it's utterly ridiculous from a biological standpoint–but it creates a real sense of terror and indeed horror on board the ship. I don't dabble much in horror stories, either, so it was an interesting change to read a book about a slow, creeping, almost unspeakable terror lurking belowdecks in wait.

I honestly would have liked the book even without all of that tension, just because the characters were well-drawn with interesting personalities and backstories. I really loved the way Northrop handled the group dynamics, showing not just stereotypical power struggles between characters but also depicting nuance and maturity as the group dynamics fluctuated with the changing situation belowdecks and navigationally. Some of the plot twists may have been a little obvious and/or stale (I'm pretty sure we all knew that ________ was a girl, didn't we?), but they're done in a clear-eyed way and fit into a larger narrative in a way that is still engaging and pretty well-done.

Honestly, while I enjoyed the ride, I did have a little bit of a hard time suspending my disbelief through to the very last page of the book. Polaris is not my usual cup of tea, so I'm not a real expert on this, but I thought the ending was a bit too soft for the genre it was aiming at. And the pseudo-science nearly drove me crazy by the end. A certain subset of kids are really going to love Polaris, though, and I say–as long as they're okay with a little bit of terror–let them at it. I'm sure they'll enjoy it.

How about you, when was the last time you read a book outside of your usual reading habits? Did it go well?

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


  1. I have changed my reading habits several times. I started in horror, then moved to crime novels, next cam non-fiction about the region where I moved, and now I'm into first contact and space opera science fiction. I just enjoy reading I guess, and rarely fail to finish any book even if it isn't my favourite. - Margy

    1. It's good that you're flexible. I find that I often wind up reading lots of books with similar themes. I do love a good crime novel, though!

  2. I did the reading challenge where you have to read all sorts of genres, and it was great- I read lots of titles that I would never have picked- it really expanded what I was reading, whether or not I loved them all!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Hardlyagoddess! That sounds like a very interesting challenge.


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