1. The environment can be depicted simply by sight, smell, or touch; however, Braverman melds all five senses together through a unique poetic style. It is warrior meets arbitrator, novice meets veteran, hunter meets the hunted. Nature is personified as an ageless creature that is unwavering, a constant juxtaposed against the actions of humans. In modern cities from the east coast to the west, traditions fade, but the civilization in Malangen is recalcitrant—a kind of horrendous and immovable beauty. In this scene, I am dragged into the very arctic depths Braverman experiences:
The water was sweet and piercing cold. It made my knuckles ache. It tasted healing, I thought, and then I corrected myself, embarrassed at my own emotion. The water was water. The place was a place. It was no more healing than a kiss to a bruise.
2. Humor is often a rarity in travelogue memoirs but Braverman instills a sense of humanness into all of the characters which forces me to question if the people she is describing are the very ones sitting next to me on the bus or at the local store. In Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube, Blair is the intriguing yet relatable girl you wish you were friends with in high school. Here, the personality of the father is indirect yet strong:
“Hold on,” said my dad from the other line. “Robert?” Somewhere far away, I made out stifled giggles. “Robert,” said my dad, “it’s not working. She wasn’t supposed to like it. Hold on,” he said again. He covered the receiver, said something to my mother. Then ran into the room. “Honey,” he said, his voice brighter. “April Fool’s!”
3. The raw honesty in Braverman’s voice is refreshing. Her voice becomes a tool that eloquently articulates the brutality and loneliness of being in a foreign country without family—the cold becomes both figurative and literal. In a Gary Paulsen-esque manner, Braverman illustrates the inescapable manner of her situation:
My e-mail, she wrote, had been childish—even embarrassing. Her letter ended: I hope you are able to shape up.
It had never occurred to me that when I finally gathered the will to ask for help, help might not come; and I felt too shattered to try again, to explain more clearly something I couldn’t even define.
4. Braverman’s ability to recall and craft authentic dialogue is notable. Each person’s speech sounds like it has been recorded word-for-word. Not only is Blair’s voice distinct as the narrator, but I can conceive the devout Rebekah, the blunt Dan, and even the dogs-not-wolves that Braverman writes so exquisitely:
“I got really interested when you said that,” said Helge Jenson. “It means you have a story. You know, if you’re curious, I could get a place for you on a sealing ship. I know a man who owes me a favor. You would be so strong when you came back. Strong physically. Strong mentally. Sealing is fair work.”
5. Even with such clear portrayals of characters, Braverman exposes each person as an individual rather than a stereotype. The relationship between Blair and Dan is complex, and at times, nonconsensual. The complexity of relationships and range of human emotion in Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube is polished and imaginative; stressing that the adventure is perhaps more mental than physical:
The unspoken standing offer, now made clear. In light of the rest of the summer, it didn’t seem so terrible: the idea that things could change, that the animosity, at least, could be over. That I could belong again.