Review: Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

May Contain Spoilers


Oh, dear, where to start?  I loved this book!  I received a surprise copy in the mail, and I was chomping at the bit to read it.  I had posted previously about Ice Dogs, because I think the cover is so striking, but I was worried that something bad was going to happen to one of the animals.  What if one of them died?? That would have ruined the reading experience for me.  I am STILL traumatized by Where the Red Fern Grows, and I read it when I was, what, 13.  While I can’t remember the death of every human character in A Game of Thrones, I still get upset over the death of Lady.  Ugh!  Reading stories with animals can be so trying for me!

The author saw my hysteria-driven post, and she quickly assured me that none of the dogs died.  Phew!  I hate getting the pages wet as I cry bitter tears over fictional deaths.  While Ice Dogs is still a somewhat stressful read, I was able to finish it very quickly.  I did have to take two breaks after Victoria and the hapless Chris run into really, really bad luck, but after my heart rate got back to normal, I was ready to jump back into the story.  As fitting a survival story, the pacing is tense and Victoria is constantly second guessing her decisions after finding the injured Chris lying bleeding on a trail.  She is a strong person, though, and she keeps forcing herself forward, mainly because sitting around in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness is going to get her and Chris killed, as well as her beloved dogs.  She’s not able to let any harm come to them, and she really does take wonderful care of her sled team. 

Victoria does make a few very, very poor choices.  First, she heads out with her dog team against her mother’s wishes, to look over some dogs she’s heard are for sale.  Ever since her father’s death, she is obsessed with winning a big race, and she thinks she needs faster dogs to do it.  Her mother disagrees – Victoria already has sixteen dogs.  Surely that is more than enough.  Victoria’s other major mistake – she didn’t check the weather forecast before heading out, leaving her helpless when a major snowstorm blows through the area.

While out on the trail, she comes across Chris, who has been injured in a snowmobile accident.  She gets turned around with her directions while trying to save him, and they both become lost in the unforgiving bush.  Only her level-headed determination to save everyone keeps them alive.  Having lived in Alaska all her life, she is comfortable outside with her sled team.  Her father made certain she knew how to take care of herself out in the wild.  Thanks to his patient lessons, she does know how to fend for herself.  Good thing, too, because Chris, a recently transplanted city slicker, knows nothing about surviving out in the cold. 

I loved Victoria.  She is completely caught up in running her dogs, at the expense of everything else.  She’s angry at the world about her father’s death, but she’s most angry with her mother.  She blames her mom for the accident that killed him, and just can’t seem to forgive her.  When she first meets Chris, and things start to go horribly wrong, she blames him for their dire circumstances.  By the end of the story, she’s learned to accept that bad things just happen, and that it’s nobody’s fault.  This huge leap finally, finally allows her to forgive her mom and herself, for her dad’s accident.

I am the type of person who avoids being outside during the winter, so I have a great deal of respect for Victoria for being so steady when things go wrong.  She is always worried about keeping everyone warm, fed, and hydrated.  She’s self-reliant, and not given to outward expressions of panic, even when it seems that their situation couldn’t become any more precarious than it already is, because, after finishing Ice Dogs, I can tell you that it always manages to do just that.  Near the end, there is an episode with a beaver, and let me just say that I did have to set the book down for a few minutes to catch my breath.  It’s a good thing I already knew that the dogs would be fine, because I was quite worried for a few pages.  Ugh!

I loved Ice Dogs so much that I am going to give it to my barn buddy, Elsa.  Only I’m not going to reassure her about the fate of the dogs, because I’m just that mean.  I can hardly wait to hear what she thinks of it, as she is the age of the intended audience.  As an adult, I thought this was a gripping, exciting read, so I’m excited to hear what a MG reader thinks of it.  If you love dogs, survival stories, or if you are even the slightest bit interested in sled dog racing, run out at grab Ice Dogs.  It is a wonderful read!

Grade:  A-

Review copy provided by author

From Amazon:

Victoria Secord, a fourteen-year-old Alaskan dogsled racer, loses her way on a routine outing with her dogs. With food gone and temperatures dropping, her survival and that of her dogs and the mysterious boy she meets in the woods is entirely up to her.

The author Terry Lynn Johnson is a musher herself, and her crackling writing puts readers at the reins as Victoria and Chris experience setbacks, mistakes, and small triumphs in their wilderness adventure.