________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 10 . . . . November 6, 2009


The Middle of Everywhere.

Monique Polak.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2009.
200 pp, pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-55469-090-9.

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.

Review by Karen Taylor.

***½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


I think I hear rustling in the low bush up ahead, so I head there. But Lenny pulls me back. When I turn to look at him, he's holding his index finger to his lips, leaning forward. He's listening, straining to hear sounds my own ears aren't trained to pick up.

Could be a bear. Lenny mouths the words.

At first, I think he's kidding. I know he'd enjoy seeing me panic. But Lenny's not smirking, and when he looks up at me, his pupils look really big. That's how I can tell he's scared.

So am I. The panicky feeling I had when I heard those heavy steps—that turned out to be Geraldine on snowshoes—and when I thought Lenny was going to beat the crap out of me comes back. Polar bears aren't like the ones you see in the Coke ads. They don't wave or smile when they see you coming. They hunt and stalk their prey. Sometimes for days in a row, waiting till the time is right to attack. I know because I've seen them do it on the Discovery Channel.


A truly enjoyable novel, The Middle of Everywhere describes the process of a white teenager's integration into a northern Canadian Inuit community. Noah's full understanding of what is necessary for him to find a place within this community comes after a suspenseful and danger fraught weekend camping and ice fishing. This well crafted story brings together a number of topical and very Canadian issues, such as climate change and its effect on the north and its communities, as well as the many embarrassments from past treatment of the Inuit and First Nation's peoples.

     Noah does not know his father well because he has only seen him a few times a year since his parents divorced. At his mother's urging, Noah agrees to leave his home and friends in Montreal to live for a school term with his dad, a much-respected white teacher in the small Inuit community of George River. Because the community is so small, Noah's father teaches several grades in his classroom, and Noah ends up being one of his students. Seeing the way the others relate to his father gives Noah not only a new appreciation for his dad but emphasizes the cultural differences, even at the level of humour, between him and his classmates.

     Noah's first day in George River begins with his dog getting run over. His sense of justice, especially in terms of harm to a pet, makes it hard for him to understand these northerner's attitudes towards animals. As Noah comes to learn, however, living so close to the land in a harsh and unforgiving climate gives rise to a different attitude toward life and survival than he's familiar with back home. Readers unfamiliar with the story of the Inuit since European colonization will be surprised to learn of their treatment and how isolated they are from the things we, who live in the south, take for granted. For instance, Noah's new friend, Tom, has never tasted a Big Mac, and many of the people he meets are missing teeth because of lack of prompt dental care. Polak provides a fascinating and accurate description of many aspects unique to the Inuit way of life. Her description of Inuit ice fishing and the historical context around the breeding of sled dogs which were brought to extinction in the 1960s by the RCMP is fascinating and not the least bit didactic. Although Polak does not belabour it, she also brings up the issues of alcoholism, suicide, residential schools, unwanted pregnancies, and physical abuse. The issue of global warming also arises in the characters' mention of disappearing species, changing thickness of the winter ice, and the changing way of northern life in general.

     The events are focalized through Noah, and, despite the fact that he frequently misjudges people's responses to him, he comes across as a reliable narrator. His first person voice resonates with authenticity and describes the world with the subtle sarcasm typical of astute teens. Readers will identify with the initial strangeness Noah experiences from his Qallunaaq (non-Inuit) perspective and, with him, come to understand that worldviews are influenced by one's cultural as well as geographical and climatological circumstances. In addition, they will get caught up in the adventure and drama of his outdoor experiences.

     The Middle of Everywhere proceeds at an appropriate pace for readers in their early teens. The language and the concepts are suitable for competent readers from 12 to14 and reluctant readers from 14 to 15. This book would be useful for its discussion of Canada's Inuit culture and the history of oppression that accompanies it, as well as the effect of climate change on northern life. I highly recommend this book; it is engaging, entertaining and a pleasure to read. 

Highly Recommended.

Karen Taylor is a Master of Arts in Children's Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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