Chilling With The Barren Grounds by David A. Robertson

When you expect little to nothing about something and it turns out to be good, you will find that sometimes it's far easier to enjoy a story without so much as anticipating. I had heard a few mixed reviews about The Barren Grounds by David A. Robertson right before I jumped into the Misewa world. Though the comments didn't exactly make me hesitant about picking it up (as you know I'm headstrong as well as determined), I can't deny that they led me to unconsciously decide that it's probably better to start this book with less expectation. It turned out to be a great thing that I got to enjoy it more and more as the story grew as wild as the weather in Misewa. Less expectation means less disappointment, but when it successfully proves otherwise, the level of excitement can get even higher than if we anticipated it in the first place.

The Barren Grounds follows the story of two Indigenous children in their new home: Morgan and Eli. After being ping-ponged from one house to another for numerous times, Morgan becomes weary and so she tries to be as awful as possible in front of her new foster parents, James and Katie. On the other hand, this being his very first time, Eli is quieter. All he does is draw things on his bigger-than-he-is notepad that he brings everywhere with him.

One day, something strange happens to the kids. When Morgan and Eli are trying to hide in the unfinished attic at their new home, they accidentally open a portal to another reality: a frozen, barren ground named Askí, with little to no food to feed what's left in its community called Misewa. With the blizzard snowing down all around the year, the need for food becomes inevitably urgent. Together with a fisher called Ochek and a squirrel named Arik, the kids embark on a dangerous journey to save Misewa before it is too late.

Usually, a snow-themed adventure intrigues me easily and this book was no different. The Barren Grounds started out okay until the mysterious reality was discovered. There is something about a fictional world with a blizzard that pulls me like a magnet. Askí was exactly the same. With a simple but unique map, the world seemed to me so bizarre but eerie.

Morgan and Eli were also such interesting characters. Even though the first one was rather harsh at times, I couldn't bring myself to dislike her. All along I was very much looking forward to coming upon great character development, and I was happy to find out that it was done quite nicely. Albeit small, I admired the parts with James and Katie too. The only bit that confused me was the classifications of the animal being in Askí. We were told by Ochek that there were two kinds of animal in this reality: the two-legged ones that could speak and think and were forbidden to be eaten; and the four-legged ones which couldn't and so they were 'sacrificed' and consumed. To me the concept was a little weird at first, but I supposed I could understand why it was that way. And for a very obvious reason, it made me think of The Lion King by Disney. I'm not sure what Simba ate has ever come across my mind before. Now it does.

The plot itself was honestly not that exceptional, but I adored the way it was told. Arik definitely doubled the fun of the story with her quick wits and understandable lack of knowledge of earth. Unfortunately, the peak of the conflict felt a bit rushed, though to be completely fair, it was quite touching in the end. I still have tons of question remaining unanswered about the plot (like Morgan’s dreams which seemed a bit too vivid and sudden; some of the characters’ reasonings which were not explained;  and I thought it was weird that out of all the students it was only Morgan that was asked to redo her poem assignment. I mean, she’s not in high school or college, right?), but perhaps I should solve them myself by picking up the next book.

Overall, The Barren Ground was quite enjoyablecertainly more than I thought it would be. A prompt shoutout is also needed to be given for how pretty the cover is. Looking at it kinda makes me think of a faraway fantasy land you are on your journey in where you could look up and see breathtaking dark nebula with naked eyes. To sum up, I would probably recommend it for a short fun read if you're feeling like picking something light but not so.

Actual rating: 3.4