Northwind book


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Book Review

In the historic land of the midnight sun, a plague ravages the fishing village where orphaned Leif lives. The boy paddles for his life in a cedar canoe. But survival on the rugged Nordic coast will take all his skills and ingenuity.

Plot Summary

Leif is born in the land of the midnight sun, where the northern lights dance and whales rule the sea. But from the beginning of his life, this beautiful land only holds tragedy. Leif’s mother dies in childbirth and his father dies at sea soon after, leaving him to be raised by sailors.

After spending most of his life shuttled from one ship to the next, neglected and abused, Leif finds brief happiness at a small fishing village. One day, sick sailors dock at the village. When the ship departs, it leaves death in its wake.

The plague ravages the village. The older sailor who has cared for Leif knows that Leif and the other orphan in the village only have one real chance to survive: They must leave.

“Go north,” the sailor says, shoving the two off in a cedar canoe.

The 12-year-old Leif paddles the two of them away from the village. They haven’t gone far when both of them fall sick. Leif’s young companion soon succumbs to the illness, but Leif manages to fight through.

After finding a small island to serve as the boy’s final resting place, Leif continues to paddle north in his canoe. He must use all of his skills and ingenuity to survive on this picturesque Nordic coast full of danger and brutality.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

The story features Norse mythology, making several references to Odin and Valhalla. Signs, fate and ghosts are mentioned as well.

The connection Leif finds with nature borders on worshipful as he believes certain entities like the ocean have a spirit, and he describes a sort of oneness between himself and nature.

Authority Roles

The old sailor, Old Carl, is kind to Leif and serves as a father figure to him. He directs Leif to go north, which Leif does for the entirety of the book.

Profanity & Violence

The story contains fairly vivid descriptions of hunting seals and hunting and cleaning fish. Leif remembers how the sailors on the ships beat him. At one point, he remembers how he contemplated suicide until Old Carl convinced him not to throw himself into the sea.

Swearing is mentioned once. At another point, Leif refers to a wave as “the d–n thing.”

Sexual Content


Discussion Topics

Leif deals with many difficult events in his life. What helps you make it through hard times?

Read John 1:3, Job 12:7-10 and Psalm 104:24-25. How can nature encourage our relationship with God? On the other hand, how might focusing on nature be detrimental to our relationship with God?

When Leif encounters a bear, he realizes that whatever happens next is out of his control. When events are out of your control, what do you do? Read Isaiah 41:10, Philippians 4:6-7 and Psalm 22:28. Do you think you usually respond to uncertainty in ways God wants you to? Why or why not?

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Additional Comments

This final book by deceased author Gary Paulsen is very similar to his award-winning novel Hatchet, with the survival story composing most of the narrative alongside some inner turmoil.

Though the lack of dialogue and overall plot could be boring for some readers, those interested in nature might enjoy the vivid descriptions of life along the Nordic coast. However, the way Leif regards nature could be problematic, especially for less mature readers.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Rachel Pfeiffer