Talking To Alaska – Anna Woltz, Translated by Laura Watkinson – Oneworld Publications – Published 2 March 2021
It only takes one day at their new school for Parker and Sven to become mortal enemies. Parker’s had a terrible summer and just wants to be invisible, while Sven is desperate to make an impression and be known as anything other than “that boy with epilepsy.”
When Parker discovers her beloved dog Alaska – who she had to give away last year – now belongs to Sven, she’s determined to steal Alaska back. Of course, that’s easier said than done…
I know first hand just how special Golden Retrievers are so I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful story about two young people brought together by a very special dog
Day one of the new school year. For Parker and Sven, this is a massive first day and both have plans to make a positive impact on their classmates. Parker plans to stay stay under the radar and Sven wants to make a big impression, but, within just the first few hours both have made a slightly different impact than they were imagining. Parker is upset with Sven for making her introduction a big deal and for making fun of her and Sven is upset that everyone already knows him as “the boy with epilepsy.” When Parker learns that her beloved dog Alaska, who she has to give away last year, now belongs to a Sven, she declares war and decides to return Alaska to her rightful home.
Talking To Alaska is such an important middle grade novel. It talks about things that so many young people face – starting at new schools, the transition to middle school, making friends, and dealing with unkind comments from others. It also addresses other important topics that is so refreshing to see in middle grade fiction, including recovering from trauma and invisible disabilities.
Sven has epilepsy. For him, this is a new diagnosis and new medication is making his health volatile. He desperately wants to make a ‘good’ impression on his classmates. He is sick of being the boy with a label and having to explain to absolutely everyone. He describes it like being a human in Mars and constantly having to explain who and what he is to the Martians. For him, Alaska is just a reminder of all the things that are ‘wrong’ with him, so he is reluctant to train her or enjoy her company. Rightly, this horrifies Parker when she learns that Sven has Alaska and isn’t loving her as she deserves.
Parker has had a tough year. Her parents were robbed at gun point. While her mother has returned to work, her father was injured and has yet to return to work. He spends hours watching the shop’s surveillance video. Parker witnessed the armed robbery and she is dealing with a lot of trauma from the incident. She also is tirelessly searching for the men responsible so they can be arrested. When she learns of Alaska’s new home she creates a plan to steal her back. Instead, under the cover of darkness, she and Sven start to talk – at first Sven not realising who Parker is – and they learn more about each other without the judgement.
A great novel for a class reading group with many points that would encourage discussion, Talking To Alaska feels reminiscent of the power of Wonder, with the added bonus of a beautiful and very clever Golden Retrieve.
The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
Category: Middle Grade Fiction
Themes: Dogs, therapy animals, epilepsy, friendship, invisible disabilities, gun violence, family, bullying.
Reading age guide: Ages 10 and up.
Advisory: References to armed robbery, injury, trauma and gun violence.
Published: 2 March 2021 by Oneworld Publications.
Format: Hardcover, paperback, ebook. 192 pages.