Napatsi Folger, illustrated by Ann Kronheimer,
Joy of Apex
Inhabit Media, 2011.
Napatsi Folger’s first novel, Joy of Apex, explores a marital breakup through the first person account of 10-year-old Joy, the middle child in her family. Joy is a multicultural kid. Her mother is Inuit, surrounded by a large family of origin; her father grew up in Brooklyn, New York, of Norwegian and Scottish ancestry. Joy’s older brother, Alex, is nervously about to begin middle school. Her sister, Allashua, is an impish, Malaprop-ridden first grader.
Apex is a “suburb” of the town of Iqaluit in Nunavut, the northeast Canadian Arctic territory formed in 1999 (previously part of the Northwest Territory); it’s unreachable by road from the rest of North America. Apex is the sort of place where computer savvy kids know it’s back-to-school time when the dog poo freezes. Joy’s account covers four months–during which her mother moves out and the family begins adjusting to their new family reality–in chapters about returning to school, a birthday party, Halloween, Allashua’s medical emergency, and Christmas holidays. Ann Kronheimer’s simple line drawings and evocative cover help create the mood of this sad, but also funny and joyful, story.
Folger gives Joy an appealing voice and good skill at reported conversations, but the story could use more emotional cohesion. We never learn how Joy’s parents met or what they are fighting about. Her mother comes across as rather heartlessly preoccupied with finding herself, although Joy doesn’t express this directly. Her father is a kindly story-telling mensch, but how does he earn a living? Folger seems to want to present Joy’s family as normal middle-class people, and apart from one mention of eating bloody frozen caribou for dinner, nothing distinct about Inuit culture is discussed. It’s not clear whether Folger’s intended readers are Inuit kids, and her goal is to provide context for family breakups, or if she is writing to introduce Nunavut life to non-Inuit children.
Despite these questions, Folger has made a promising beginning to her literary career. As she continues to hone her narrative skills and clarify her intended audience, she may play an important role both in articulating Nunavut culture to outsiders and in helping Nunavut youth adjust to the kind of stresses Joy so poignantly reports.