Written by: Favel Parrett
Rating: 1.5 / 5 stars
Summary: Running away from the mainland was supposed to make their lives better. But, for Isla and her brother, their mother’s sadness and the cold, damp greyness of Hobart’s stone streets seeps into everything. Then, one morning, Isla sees a red ship. That colour lights her day. And when a sailor from the ship befriends her mother, he shares his stories with them all – of Antarctica, his home in Denmark and life onboard. Like the snow white petrels that survive in the harshest coldest place, this lonely girl at the bottom of the world will learn that it is possible to go anywhere, be anything. But she will also find out that it is just as easy to lose it all.
Disclaimer: I received this book to evaluate and judge for the University of Florida’s 2017 Common Reading Program. It was not chosen as a final contender.
Review: So, warning: this is going going to come off more as a rant than a review, but I digress. Parrett is an incredible writer. This book is artistic with the near-poetic way she tells the story, and she provides just enough information about the characters that it allows for the reader to create images of them in their head. I really do enjoy the style of her writing, I promise.
The biggest problem with the story is that it wasn’t incredibly interesting or creative. I was always waiting for some big plot twist to come, or at least a point where I nodded and said “Oh, that’s what this is about”, but that never happened, as the book never approaches an overlying theme. Maybe it was how change and adventure can help people evolve? Maybe it was that food is the gateway to the soul? Maybe it was simply be kind to others? I honestly am still unsure. When reading this with my friends, they told me the point of the story was to show how Bo’s tales of a land far beyond Isla’s imagination cultivated her life; but we never really see any change in her life, besides a childish wish of her own to one day be a sailor like Bo. Additionally, each chapter felt like it could’ve been a separate short story on its own, a fluff piece and peek into the life of either Isla or Bo at any point in time. Each chapter seemed to move forward or backward in time, and I had a hard time keeping track of where I was, chronologically. The book felt like a jigsaw puzzle where I had to take the separate pieces (or chapters) and re-organize them in a more efficient way to create the image I wanted.
The summary provided on the back of the book feels completely incongrous with the story within. Normally, I don’t put much weight behind how well the summary matches up with the story, as I still like to be surprised, but this book had promises of adventures and mysteries in the summary and not even a bit of that within the actual story. After first reading the summary, I assumed that Isla and her family were running away from some tragic event in Australia; instead, we find out it was just that her parents divorced and her mother wishes to move away. I thought that Isla would then suffer some tragedy in Tasmania that only Bo could save her from; her brother’s friend dies unexpectedly, but it doesn’t really affect her except in some secondhand way. I thought that Isla would “lose it all” after her life brightens with Bo in it; but nothing else really happens. All of Isla’s chapters, for that matter, are incredibly boring and I could’ve done without them. They barely even connect to Bo’s stories, even when they’re in the same scene, perhaps because Isla’s tales were that of a naive child stuck at home and Bo’s were that of an intelligent and passionate man on an adventure. I really only spent time delving into Bo’s tales on the Nella Dan, and I wish the whole book had been about the red boat’s travels. The Nella Dan was a real boat that took scientists on expeditions to the Arctic, but Parrett employs none of these characters in the book, instead only deciding to include only the fact of the boat’s fate in the story. For this purpose, I am not sure why she didn’t simply use another name for the boat; the rest of the tale was fiction, so why not the boat’s name as well? Although I usually enjoy alternative historical fiction, I don’t when it is done incorrectly.
Ultimately, I put down this book not really sure what I was supposed to get out of it, which is why it receives only a single star. Any book that I read (or don’t finish) and feel like I could’ve gone my whole entire life without ever thinking about it receives this rating. Parrett gets an additional 0.5 star because her style of writing is incredible; she just needs to choose a different story to tell. I do believe I will pick up some of Parrett’s other works in hopes that her beautiful words are attached to a more interesting tale in other novels or stories.