Jennifer Longo’s Up to This Pointe is a delightful, wholly original novel that brings YA readers to territory not often visited in this genre: Antarctica.
Seventeen-year-old Harper Scott is a relative of Antarctica explorer Robert Falcon Scott (“He is our third cousin’s aunt’s great-grandfather. Or something.”), but she’s not interested in science. She and her best friend, Kate, have been planning their entire lives to graduate early from high school, join the San Francisco Ballet, and live together in the city.
But when Harper’s dreams fall into jeopardy, turning her world upside down and leaving her with the desire to escape it all, she uses her family history to finagle a coveted spot in a program to overwinter in Antarctica at McMurdo Station. As one of only three teenagers in the program, she is fully immersed in an adult world — and a strange one at that — not only due to her presence at the station but also the very grown-up decisions she now faces about her own future.
Jennifer Longo deftly alternates the storyline between Harper’s arrival in Antarctica and the San Francisco backstory that draws here there, creating a suspenseful, page-turning plot. The dramas in both stories mirror one another in that both deal with themes of belonging, love and friendship, and how to deal with the unexpected.
Early in the story, Charlotte, Harper’s supervisor and mentor, paraphrases one of the survivors of Robert Scott’s party: “‘For scientific research, give me Scott; for swift and efficient travel, give me Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems to be no way out, get on your knees and pray for Shackleton.’” And indeed, Antarctica’s most famous survivor becomes the inspiration for Harper as she fights through a fog of depression and the long Antarctic night to accept the changes in her life and move forward.
While Up to This Pointe deals with disappointment, heartbreak and other mature themes, it is an upbeat, lively tale sprinkled with wonderful humor throughout. The novel never gets bogged down even in its weighty moments but rather evokes hope and perseverance, much like the real-life Shackleton story that is revealed in its pages. And while the novel doesn’t tackle environmental issues head-on, its glimpses of Antarctica’s natural beauty, Charlotte’s research in eco-marine biology, and the fact that Harper is a vegetarian all subtly link this novel with environmental awareness.