How to Survive in the North by Luke Healy

How to Survive in the North by Luke Healy. November 15, 2016. Nobrow Press, 192 p. ISBN: 9781910620069.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 3.6; Lexile: 230.

With stunning narrative skill, this compelling graphic novel intricately weaves together true-life narratives from 1912, 1926 and a fictional story set in the present day. How To Survive in the North is an unforgettable journey of love and loss, showing the strength it takes to survive in the harshest conditions.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Racial taunts; Discrimination; Strong sexual themes; Alcohol; Starvation



Booklist (November 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 6))
Three intertwined stories make up comics artist and colorist Healy’s first graphic novel. Two are fact-based narratives of arctic expeditions taking place in the early twentieth century, and the third is the fictional story of a New Hampshire college professor who’s studying the expeditions in the present day. Each arctic-bound exploration experiences insurmountable difficulties, losing men and making castaways of Healy’s real-life heroes on separate trips, Robert Bartlett and Ada Blackjack, in the process. In 2013, Sully’s happy for a distraction. He’s been accused, correctly, of carrying on with a student, and the library is the perfect place to spend his forced sabbatical, focusing on disasters that aren’t his. Healy’s artwork, composed in many small panels, is extremely appealing, clever, and emotive, with different cool, primary-pastel palettes clearly defining each separate story and simplified figures that are quickly identifiable from dress and stature. Centering his story on real people, Healy lights his contemplation of the lure of inhospitable places and the often regrettable decisions they inspire men and women to make from an intriguing angle.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2016)
Two early-20th-century expeditions intertwine with a 21st-century story in Healy’s debut graphic novel.Retellings of the Arctic adventures of Robert Bartlett, a white ship’s captain, and Ada Blackjack, an “Eskimo” seamstress, unspool alongside the present-day midlife crisis of Sully Barnaby, a white university professor who is researching the two figures. In 1913, Capt. Bartlett resignedly sets sail from Nome, Alaska, at the behest of the overzealous (and irresponsible) explorer Vilhjamur Stefansson and a bevy of scientists with their sights set on the Arctic. In 1921, also in Nome, Ada Blackjack agrees to be the seamstress on an expedition to claim an Arctic island for Canada, leaving her ailing son behind, in the hope of earning enough money to get him treatment. And in 2013, Sully’s affair with a male student has been sussed out, and the middle-aged professor reluctantly begins his mandatory sabbatical by exploring Stefansson’s papers and learning about Bartlett’s and Blackjack’s journeys. The novel alternates among the three strands, overlapping people and events, fact and fiction, in an intricate narrative pattern of challenge, crisis, and survival for each of the three protagonists. Healy’s command of visual storytelling coupled with a palette of pastels reminiscent of the northern lights provides the thread of continuity that holds the weave together. Two parts historical, one part invention, a quiet contemplation and celebration of the tenacity of the human spirit. (afterword, author’s note) (Graphic novel. 14 & up)

About the Author

Luke Healy was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland. He received an MFA in Cartooning from The Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. His comics work has been published in several anthologies and he has also worked as a coloring assistant with Lucy Knisley on her book Something New.

His website is

Teacher Resources

Polar Expeditions Lesson Plan

Polar Exploration Lesson Plans

Around the Web

How to Survive in the North on Amazon

How to Survive in the North on JLG

How to Survive in the North on Goodreads



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