Iglu by Jacob Sackin
As I walked outside on the day that I wrote this, I inhaled the sweet air of springtime. Though I had gloves, I didn’t need them. My coat was open, and I didn’t shiver. Not so strange if this had been early in May. But it’s December in Iowa. Much as I love spring and enjoy the relative warmth of 63-degree days, I find the moderate temperature most unsettling. December isn’t supposed to be warm where I live. This false, fall “spring” is the harbinger of a changed climate that is already dramatically altering weather patterns around the world. Yet, climate skeptics still fill the airwaves with denial.
In his young adult novel, Iglu, author Jacob Sackin imagines a world in which climate change is no longer questioned by anyone. Climate refugees are fleeing the lower 48 states to Alaska, pushing back the Native people and seizing the land for themselves. War rages on as the Inuit people fight back against the encroaching masses and the cruel Skyhawk soldiers sent to ensure the safety of the refugees.
The heroine of the story is April, an Inupiaq girl running for her life, narrowly evading the Skyhawk troops who have captured — or possibly killed — her parents. Everything familiar to April has been destroyed by bombing or bulldozers. Inupiaq people are being rounded up, forced into camps where they can be contained and controlled. April’s family has been torn apart, and she is left alone to fend for herself. In this futuristic coming-of-age story, April finds the strength not only to survive, but also to fight against the cruelty and injustice of the powerful U.S. government. She isn’t perfect — no realistic character is — but she makes a powerful role model for youngsters who are themselves coming to grips with an unfair world and an uncertain environmental future.
The political implications of this novel shouldn’t surprise anyone. The U.S. government is vilified, and the nation’s citizens are portrayed as self-interested and callow toward the plight of the Native people they are displacing. Although it’s set more than 100 years in the future, the characterization of my fellow citizens makes me more than a little uncomfortable. I hear a loud ring of truth about the way Native Americans were pushed back by people who look like me. The story of the Inupiaq people in Iglu, is universal: You have what I want; give it to me, or I’ll take it from you.
Today, we are all on our own inexorable march, but not (yet, anyway) a march northward. Instead, we are moving steadily toward the destruction of our own habitat. We are using resources with abandon. In the name of profit, convenience, and self-interest, we are killing the very rain forests and oceans that breathe oxygen into our air.
The ranks of the skeptics here at home are growing smaller as raging superstorms disable huge swaths of our nation and drought spreads its reach over much of the continent. Sadly, the youngest among us may live to see an Alaska with no glaciers, no permafrost, and no trees. It’s worth contemplating this painful future. If we do not change our ways now, this may be the awful legacy we offer our descendants.
The story is original, the message is compelling, and it is a cautionary tale worth reading — for young adults and adult readers alike. It took me some time to get into the story. Once I had read a few chapters, however, I found my self hooked, eager to know what would happen to April and those she met on her journey. I’d put the book down for a day or two and continue to think about the characters and their plight, glad to get back to it as soon as I could.
This is not a pretty story; ugly things happen to good people, and human nature shows its worst face at times. But there are moments of redemption and acts of kindness that restore the reader’s faith. The events may be too upsetting to younger readers, but older students and adults will find in Iglu ideas and events that lead to thoughtful discussion.
The only real hope for our survival is if we all make changes today. We can’t continue to blithely abuse our planet and think the future will be as bright for our grandkids as it was for us. Raising awareness through a vivid and exciting story is a step in the right direction.
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