Like a lot of people who love both dogs and Twitter, I became a fan of Blair Braverman and her dog team long before they ran this year’s Iditarod, through Blair’s great online storytelling about her wonderful dogs. Given how much I enjoy her writing when it’s broken up into 280-character bites, it’s surprising I waited as long as I did to read her memoir. A few bad reviews on Goodreads put me off a bit, but I realize after reading it that the people who gave it bad reviews were expecting a different kind of book.
That’s understandable: if you know Braverman as a musher, and you can see that there’s a dog team on the cover of the book, you might expect it to be largely a book about mushing and dog teams. But while there are certainly references to mushing and to sled dogs, this is a young woman’s coming-of-age memoir, set against the backdrop of several trips to the far north in Norway and in Alaska.
Blair Braverman always felt drawn to the Arctic, and sought it out from the time she went to Norway as an exchange student in high school. She went back later, for a year at a “folk school” learning to handle a dog team, and yet again to spend some time with people she got to know during that year at the folk school. In between, along with getting a college degree (not in the Arctic), she spent two summers working with an off-season dog team on an Alaskan glacier (the “G-D ice cube” of the title).
All of these trips were about her effort to discover herself and her place in the world, which she always knew was going to involve cold weather, snow, and probably sled dogs — but they’re also about a young woman’s attempts to navigate a male-dominated world. None of her encounters is harrowing, just disturbing — ranging from the father of her student-exchange host family who makes her feel uncomfortable in a way that’s hard to define, to a first boyfriend who’s demanding and pushy and unwilling to accept that their relationship is over. Finding the ability to set her own boundaries and stand up for herself as a woman in a man’s world is as important to this memoir as anything Braverman learned about surviving in the far north or running a dog team. You don’t have to go to the ends of the earth to find yourself — but if you do, it might just make a great memoir.