Alaska by Anna Woltz, translation: Laura Watkinson
(Oneworld, in prep, 192 pages)
After a first disastrous day at school, during which she’s completely humiliated, Parker discovers that her dog, Alaska, is living with the biggest bully in her class. Her family had to let Alaska go because of her brother’s allergy. Parker can’t stand the thought that her beloved Alaska is now an assistance dog for the horrible Sven, who suffers from epileptic fits. So she decides one night to kidnap the dog. Her plan does not go well, and she ends up talking to Sven.
These two near-adolescents are both struggling to deal with their own problems. Parker has just had a terrible summer involving a traumatic experience. All she really wants is to be as invisible as possible. Sven, on the other hand, thinks that he needs to pull o some brilliant stunt to stop everyone feeling sorry for him. He’s scared of his body, which could let him down at any moment, but he’s determined to put up a fight.
As they can’t be seen together in the daytime, much of the book is set at night. The two children are enemies at first, but they come to know and trust each other. This results in interactions that are both moving and hilarious, with the emotional highpoint the scene in which Alaska finally has to choose for herself which of her owners she wants to be with.
Alaska is another brilliantly constructed and subtly composed book by Woltz, full of humour, dynamism and layers. It’s about searching for your identity and dealing with emotions like shame and jealousy, which become a real issue at the start of puberty. And about the big and complex world that you have to negotiate as a 13-year-old, particularly at school with all its unwritten rules and codes, which are often so very confusing.
Anna Woltz succeeds in clearly presenting complicated emotions in accessible yet stylistically sophisticated language: ‘If there was a sport called epilepsy, there’s no way in a million years I’d ever choose to join the club.’ Alaska is a cinematic adventure that will appeal to many children, partly because of the positive outcome.