by Will Hobbs
for middle grade readers with a love for adventure and the outdoors – Alaska in particular
Never Say Die opens with a grolar bear attack. Neither you nor I would have made it, but the savvy hunter, aware of the ways of bears in the tundra does. Nick Trasher is Inuit – in his blood he’s only half; in his outlook he’s full. Nick’s grandfather, Jonah, is the most important influence in Nick’s life. They have spent fifteen years in the wilderness together. Jonah has taught him the old ways, as well as the new adapted ways using up-to-date tools for hunting and fishing and gathering. That is the only way to maintain family in the Arctic – and Nick means to stay. Nick understands the balance that must exist between the hunter and his environment in order for all to survive. That way of life is changing, however. The environment is changing. The effects of global warming are evident all around them – ice is less, herds are smaller and animals that would never be sited are frequently. Jonah, and Nick through him, isn’t totally sure he approves of the work of the environmental biologists and scientists as they track animals to understand changes. Nick thinks, “Just ask the hunters – ask the old hunters – they know all there is to know.” Life is changing one way or another in Inuvik and Nick wonders what his future will bring.
Right now Jonah is struggling with a cancer that will soon claim his life. That change is sure for Nick and he is making the most of every moment. Then comes the second change. Nick is invited by his older half-brother Ryan to take a raft trip up the Firth River in search of the caribou herds. Ryan is a professional photographer. He is working with many scientists and wants to write an article on the effects of climate change on caribou, their migration and numbers. It is the brothers’ first opportunity to get to know each other. They’ve been raised by their moms and know little of their dad.
Nick hesitates to leave, but Jonah urges him on. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity- one that Jonah wishes he had been able to share with Nick himself. He tells Nick to go and says he will surely wait to hear Nick’s stories of the trip before he “lets the bear and wolf enter the town.” Nick decides to join his brother and promises to bring back all the stories he can of his trip, the land and especially, the caribou.
Full of uncertainty at his leaving, Nick draws hope from the school motto, “Never Say Die.” – meaning: always think, always survive. It is a motto he will think of often over the coming days because on the first day of the trip the raft flips over and Nick and Ryan are separated on opposite shores. Now they must find each other and survive in a brutal environment with limited supplies. Never Say Die is a survival story to say the least, but it is also the story of brothers who learn from each other, come to understand their differences and grow in respect of each other. They form a bridge between old way and new way through understanding and respect.
Never Say Die is an amazing journey both for what you learn about the land, and for what you learn about the ways people of different backgrounds and outlooks can come together for a common good. Having finished this, I am off to read all the Will Hobbs’ books I can find. If I enjoy them half as much, I’ll be pleased. I appreciate having another author to recommend to realistic fiction, with a fast pace readers.