Looking for Alaska: Biome Books for Grownups

This month’s Booklist contains a Spotlight on series nonfiction that includes includes two articles about biomes. What if I told you I had no idea what a biome was until I saw these articles? I can’t tell if my education failed me, or a biome is just one of these newfangled terms that Gen Y-ers racing toward the grave weren’t taught in the 80s. (I’m guessing the former.)

As it happens, there are plenty of novels for adults set in biomes—too many to count. (Forests are biomes! So are deserts! And prairies and. . .) The following books, linked to their excerpted Booklist reviews, are set in the tundra. This list goes out to my fellow Chicagoans who just suffered through an unseasonable heatwave.

 

Bone Dust White, by Karin Salvalaggio

Rural Montana’s frozen tundra is the setting for this literary mystery debut. Eighteen-year-old Grace is home alone after recuperating from a heart transplant when she sees a man stab a woman on the fringes of the property behind her home. Despite the cold, she runs out the back door to try to help. She is shocked to find the victim is the mother who abandoned her 11 years earlier, but she is too late to save the woman’s life. Detective Macy Greeley is assigned the case, as she’s been tracking the victim in connection with a sex slavery ring. But Collier, Montana, is a small town full of evil secrets, and no one is talking.

 

 

 

A Cold War, by Alan Russell

Elese Martin disappears in Alaska while on her honeymoon, and her husband, Greg, is the prime suspect. But the case goes nowhere, and Elese is never found. Three years later, another woman, Nina Granville, goes missing. Nina’s fiancé is the political wunderkind of the Donnelly family, a Kennedy-like clan, and a multi-million-dollar reward spurs a massive search, also to no avail. The reader learns early on that the kidnapper is an Alaskan survivalist who calls himself Baer and is convinced that there is an upcoming nuclear winter, which he is determined to survive.

 

 

 

 

 Drop City, by T. C. Boyle

The hippie manifesto, “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” inspired Norm to open his Sonoma County ranch up to anyone who found their stoned way there, thus creating Drop City, the hedonistic commune Boyle so dynamically conjures in his compulsively readable ninth novel. There is no love for rowdy Drop City among its disgusted, litigious neighbors, so resourceful Norm takes the entire party on the road and heads to Alaska. Meanwhile, deep in the pristine Alaskan wilderness, stout-hearted Sess Harder, a master in the art of living well off the land, has won himself a wife, the impressive Pamela. Just as the newlyweds start setting up their private paradise, the hippie circus arrives.

 

 

 

The Quality of Silence, by Rosamund Lupton

British wildlife photographer Matt was supposed to meet his wife, astrophysicist Yasmin, and their deaf daughter, 10-year-old Ruby, at a remote Alaska airport, but he has failed to show up. Yasmin discovers that the town he was staying in has suffered a catastrophic fire, and Matt’s wedding ring has been found in the charred remains. Yasmin refuses to believe that her husband is dead and is convinced he is stranded in the Alaskan wilderness, and within hours, Yasmin and Ruby are barreling down a snow-swept Alaskan highway in the cab of a long-haul trucker.

 

 

 

The Raven’s Gift, by Don Rearden

This is part dystopian survival tale, part Jack London wilderness saga, and part Stephen King/Michael Crichton–style suspense story. Holding it all together, and making this much more than a “what happens when people can’t defend against a massive threat” exercise, is Alaska native Rearden’s deep knowledge of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and the culture of the Yupik Eskimos living there. Rearden takes an adventurous, idealistic young couple (John and Anna), gives them jobs as first-year teachers, and plunks them in a tiny village in a tiny home free of all amenities.

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About the Author:

Eugenia Williamson is the Associate Editor of Digital Products at Booklist. She worked in bookstores for twelve years, reviews books for The Boston Globe, and writes about books, culture, and politics for several other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Genie.

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