by Ellis Nelson
I read young adult novels.
At almost 52.
There, I’ve said it.
A book worth reading must make the reader feel a connection to the characters. When reading a legal or medical thriller, or contemporary women’s fiction, I relate to those characters in a way reflective of my current life. I can commiserate with the struggling mom, worry for the cancer patient, feel anger for the victim in a lawsuit. And that is good. Empathy and understanding are traits which are necessary in our world.
What I enjoy most about YA fiction is returning to my younger self. Not identifying with the middle aged mom but, instead, seeing the world through the eyes of the angst ridden teen; reflecting on my own childhood and feeling the pain and rooting for this younger soul at the start of their journey.
“Into the Land of Snows” by Ellis Nelson is not your typical YA book. One clear distinction is the lack of young adults in the novel. Sixteen year old Blake, a child of divorce, runs into some trouble with drugs and is sent to spend time with Dad, a doctor with a climbing expedition at Mount Everest. Blake talks about a friend from home, and one of the Sherpas seems to be young, but otherwise the novel is filled with (don’t be offended) old people, or at least older people than you’d expect in a YA book.
This is actually crucial to the growth Blake experiences during his travel. The use of marijuana is the least of the issues with which he struggles. He is angry. His entire world collapsed when his parents divorced. And the icing on the cake was Mom moving him from his hometown to her childhood hometown. She immersed herself in her own depression. Dad escaped to the Himalayas. Blake was left alone with his own sadness and no way to process his grief.
The trip to Everest was supposed to be an opportunity for father and son to reconnect, but after an unexpected climbing tragedy, and potential further danger, Blake is instead sent on a hike with Sherpa Ang, across the mountains to safety. Opportunity for introspection, long discussions with wise Ang, encounters with Buddhist Monks, a truth which had been kept from him, all provide Blake with the tools he needs to move forward.
Nelson created a world which also allowed the reader to grow. As a Christian, I admit to ignorance of Buddhism, and probably also an inability to accept a lot of their beliefs, but I did appreciate the opportunity to hear of their religion and culture and to think. What struck me most about Blake’s travel in a world so completely different from the United States, was the civility he encountered. Spend some time on social media reading the vitriol spewed right now about our presidential election and see that rich, first world, is not kind to one another. I enjoyed the kindness shown by those who welcomed a stranger. It was a respite of peace.
“Into the Land of Snows” is a journey worth taking.