Review: Ballad of the Northland

Cover of "Ballad of the Northland," featuring a black background with a small picture of a flying eagle
Image from Abe Books

Title: Ballad of the Northland

Author: Jason Barron

Genre: Contemporary

Back Cover:

Life in the north is hard. For many who dwell on the fringes of the Last Great Frontier, far from the major population centers, daily life is purely a matter of survival, of eking out a hand to mouth existence on the back of frozen wastes or along windswept shores. The Boy grew up poverty-stricken in the wild country of south central Alaska. On the Yentna River, he and his cousins grow up hungry, hard, and tougher than nails. He learns to hunt, trap, and just get by in a world where survival is accomplished day by day and never taken for granted. One day, he learns about the Great Race, a thousand-mile dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome, and his odyssey begins…


I had no intention of ever reading this book. The blurb was lame, the cover was lamer, and it sounded like either a coming-of-age story (not my thing) or something boring and “inspirational.” But my grandparents got it for my brother in Alaska, and he asked me to read it and tell him if it was any good. (He’s not a big reader anyway, and the only books he really reads are ones I recommend.)

One Saturday, nearly six months after he asked me to read it, it finally got to the top of my to-read pile. So I picked it up and decided to read 100 pages, give up, and take a nap.

After page one, I did not expect to like this book. The characters didn’t even get names. Aunt and Uncle, Little Cousin, Middle Cousin, and the main character was just called “The Boy.” (It was written in third person.) So I started slogging. And then I looked at page numbers and realized I passed the hundred mark 23 pages ago.

I didn’t get a nap that afternoon.

The characters weren’t all that outstanding. There wasn’t really a plot. But I was fascinated. It was a look at life in rural Alaska. Cold and bitter, spending the entire day doing enough to survive until tomorrow and do it again. Ballad of the Northland didn’t mince words. It was hard, cold, backbreaking, and brutal … and completely absorbing.

There was also a touch of … something else. Maybe The Boy was messed up in the head. Or maybe there was a dash of paranormal to the story. But it was a strange, eerie addition to the story that somehow didn’t seem out of place.

So did I recommend this book to my brother? Yes. It’s a little different from his usual fare of juvenile humor, but I hope he gives it a chance. I didn’t enjoy it in the sense of entertainment, but it was a fascinating read.


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