Friday, July 23, 2021

MMGM: Arctic Star by Tom Palmer

I've read about convoys and their escorts crossing the Atlantic Ocean during WWII, but never about the ships that escorted convoys traveling parallel to Norway to a base in northern Russia through waters alive with German submarines loaded with torpedoes and Luftwaffe just waiting to take to the air and strike. But even more terrifying than U-Boat attacks and airplane strikes was Hitler's newest ship the Scharnhorst, "the most feared German vessel on the ocean" and rumor has it that she is on the move. Needless to say, this novel, based on a true story, is action packed. 

It may only be October 1943, but teenager Frank, along with his childhood friends Stephen and Joseph, have bundled up to go out on the deck of the HMS Forgetmenot, a convoy escort, to chisel as much ice as possible off the deck of the ship. It's not easy task, given the rough sea, the high waves, and the rolling and tossing of the ship. Which is how Frank suddenly lost his balance and found himself falling into the sea. Sure he was a goner, Frank is surprised to wake up back on the ship. 

Frank recovers, and eventually, the ship makes it to their destination in Russia, but on the way back to their home port, they are torpedoed, and once again Frank finds himself in the freezing Arctic waters as the HMS Forgetmenot sinks. Picked up by a rescue ship, Frank realizes his friend Joseph is dead, but Stephen, who was in the engine room, has miraculously survived. 

Frank and Stephen are given a Survivor's Leave, returning home to Plymouth, England to see their families, and pay their respects to Joseph's father. While there, they receive their orders to report to the HMS Belfast, back on Arctic Convoy duty. And while the HMS Belfast is a larger ship that the HMS Forgetmenot, the trip north to Russia is still filled with fear, anxiety and danger. 

The book ends with the Battle of North Cape, the real life battle between the Arctic Convoy and the dreaded Scharnhorst battleship. I said it is a nail-biter and it is right up to the end. Palmer's descriptions of the cold weather and icy waters of the Norwegian Sea, the ice that coated the ship and had to be constantly chiseled away to prevent the ships from getting top heavy and capsizing, were realistic enough to give me chills despite reading it during a heatwave. 

But even more realistic than the elements were Frank's thoughts and fears. Frank is a sensitive, conscientious boy, and dealing with a dangerous mission should be enough for a anyone who is still a teen, but he must also deal with worry about his mother alone in Plymouth, grieve for a friend who died while the two friends were not on speaking terms, and his own fears of what could happen. The story is told from Frank's first point of view and I thought Palmer did a great job of giving readers a sense of what it was like to be Frank without overwhelming them with too much tension. 

Arctic Star isn't a very long novel, but packs a powerful punch. The Arctic Convoys were such difficult and harrowing missions that an special award called The Arctic Star was created in 2012 for those men who served on what Winston Churchill called "the worst journey in the world." The book is not named for this award, but rather for the North Star that plays a small but important role in Frank's story.

Back matter includes an Author's Note and photographs of men who served on the Arctic Convoys, as well as additional information on the HMS Belfast.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, 
now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle.


  1. Goodness! Sounds harrowing and also like a must read. I will download now. Thanks so much for filling me in on this, Alex. I look forward to reading it for the story but also for paying attention to how Palmer writes action and feelings!

  2. What an exciting story! I'm looking for a copy now. Frank sounds like the perfect character to carry the plot. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  3. This sounds like such a compelling read! Frank sounds like an excellent protagonist, and the action-packed plot definitely sounds like it would hold your attention. Thanks so much for the great review!

  4. This sounds like an exciting WWII story. Frank sounds like a great main character who goes through so much. Thanks for letting us know about it.

  5. Couldn't imagine how I missed this one, but it seems to be available only in e book or paperback. I need to see how many WWII fans I have this year; it's not going to be covered in the curriculum as much, and I already have SOOOOO many books! Looks like a great one, though!

  6. This one does look good. It's not often that I find a topic about World War II that I haven't read about. This one seems to be one that fit the bill!

  7. Scraping ice off the deck - sounds like a perfect book for August! And that it's a WWII adventure only makes it better.

  8. I really didn't know this story! Fascinating - chilling! I can't imagine how hard it must have been for those who were involved in this dangerous journey. I like what you shared of Frank. Thanks for sharing today!

  9. Wow. I had no idea about this story. Having to chip ice off the deck so the ship doesn't capsize? Holy smoke! It sounds like a wonderful book. I'm putting it high on my TBR list. Thanks for telling me about it.

  10. Thanks so much for reading my book and for your review! If anyone would like a free Arctic Star poster pack please get in touch thanks again Tom