Siberia: A Novel

Siberia: A Novel

by Ann Halam

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When Sloe was tiny, her Papa disappeared and she and her mama went to live in a prison camp in the snowy north, in a time and place when there are no more wild animals. Mama’s crime: teaching science, and her dedication to the hope that the lost animal species can be reborn. To Sloe, Mama’s secret work is magic, as enchanting as Mama’s tales of a… See more details below


When Sloe was tiny, her Papa disappeared and she and her mama went to live in a prison camp in the snowy north, in a time and place when there are no more wild animals. Mama’s crime: teaching science, and her dedication to the hope that the lost animal species can be reborn. To Sloe, Mama’s secret work is magic, as enchanting as Mama’s tales of a bright city across the ice where they will be free.

Years later, Sloe is sent to a prison school, and Mama disappears. At 13, Sloe escapes, pursued by a mysterious man. With only hope to keep her going, Sloe sets out on a solitary 1000-mile journey. But she is not truly alone for Mama left Sloe a gift: the seeds of five missing species and the knowledge to bring them to life.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Can a book be judged by its cover? This one can—unappealing, dismal and twisted. What begins as a slow-paced account of four-year-old Rosita's journey to her new life with her mother in a prison camp in the cold, snowy north continues to drag on through her school days—filled with conniving, scheming children, her expulsion from school and her fugitive-like adventures. While science fiction fans may be a likely audience for this book, they, too, will wonder why Rosita (now known as Sloe) endures so much at the hands of her teachers, guards and other adults she meets along the way. The crime for which her mother was sent to prison camp?—being a scientist planning to "take action" on wild mammals. This is the secret "treasure" Sloe guards and defends as she makes her way to "the city where the sun always shines" and her hope of a new life for her and her animals. The obstacles she encounters and the ensuing resolutions seem far-fetched and too imaginative to be plausible, even in science fiction. Halam's presentation of a frozen, isolated future is quite disturbing, especially in our post-September 11 world of violence and teen suicide. 2005, Wendy Lamb Books, Ages 12 up.
—Elizabeth Young
Halam is a British author who writes adult SF under the name of Gwyneth Jones. As Ann Halam, she has written two successful YA novels, Dr. Franklin's Island and Taylor Five, both of which combine science with survival themes. Siberia is set in a future world of ecological and cultural disaster—a little girl and her mother are sent into exile to a frozen world that seems like what we know about prison camps in Siberia during the Communist era. The little girl is the narrator, and she gets older, she is separated from her mother and sent to a ghastly school; later, disgraced and alone, she is determined to escape with a precious scientific legacy from her mother. The little girl Rosita renames herself Sloe, for the bitter fruit. She is amazingly intelligent and resourceful. The experiences as a liar and thief that helped her survive at school now become essential as she undertakes the long, arduous journey across the ice, through the forest, to a city where she may be free. Much of the plot is about her survival in an oppressive, bitterly cold environment. What makes the story unique, however, and links it to the SF genre, is the legacy from her mother, a biological scientist. As the fauna of the world had mutated and disappeared, Sloe's parents found a way to preserve the DNA of five different groups of animals. Sloe's mother is the guardian of the DNA and trains Sloe to do what has to be done to keep the DNA alive—she becomes a guardian of the tiny creatures. All animal lovers will be swept up in this aspect of the story, and the details of the life cycles of these "kits" are enchanting. This is a powerful novel, with many themes to consider; the plot isexciting and suspenseful. KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2005, Random House, Wendy Lamb, 263p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-In a dystopian (though vaguely familiar) wilderness called Siberia, young Rosita and her mother live in a camp as political prisoners. By day, Rosita's mother makes nails, but secretly at night, she performs her "magic" of creating and harvesting animal life with a Lindquist kit. When Rosita excels at the prison school, she is sent away to board at New Dawn School. She is quickly disenchanted, tricked into betraying her mother and sending her to die, and becomes "Sloe," helping to run a stolen-goods ring in the school. When Sloe is expelled, she returns home long enough to steal the Lindquist kit and then makes a break for the enlightened city several hundred miles to the north where her mother told her she would find safety. Halam intertwines issues of ecology, climate change, and nature conservancy with more personal themes of loneliness, identity, and trust. Sloe's experiences are far-fetched, akin to Dr. Franklin's Island (2002) and Taylor Five (2004, both Random), but underneath their bizarre nature lies the believable character of a 14-year-old girl struggling with a daunting responsibility that she doesn't understand. The bitterly cold setting, the hunger, and fear are almost palpable. The initially slow pace picks up about halfway through and hurtles readers toward an uncertain but satisfying conclusion. Halam also publishes fantasy and science fiction for adults under the name Gwyneth Jones.-Melissa Moore, Union University Library, Jackson, TN Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Readers discover this dystopian world as loved, slightly spoiled Rosita transforms into adolescent rebel Sloe. The changes in the child parallel the gradual revelation of a cold hard world that extends beyond Sloe's Siberian location. Her scientist parents are protecting test-tube creatures that carry much of the genetic code for a posterity that doesn't appreciate or even realize what may be lost. Rosita's father is taken away and her mother hides this treasure from all comers except little Rosita. Tricked into betraying those she cares for, Sloe sets out on a journey to "the city where the sun always shines" to fulfill her mother's wishes. All wild creatures have been eliminated, but the natural world is definitely not safe. Slavery, outlaws, thieves and the all-powerful state network threaten Sloe's survival. In a world where a red light means a camera is watching, Sloe's going off the grid into the wilderness ups the ante. Gripping and thoughtful, Halam's follow-up to Dr. Franklin's Island (2002) will satisfy her many fans-and gain new ones. (Fiction. YA)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The little girl was me, Sloe. I was Rosita. (I had to give up my name, I'll explain why when I get to that part.) That tractor ride is my oldest memory. I think about it often and I treasure all the details, because I can't remember anything from the time before. I have been told things, and I've seen photographs, but I can't remember my father's face. It's as if my life began that day, under the wide blank roaring sky, with the nice guard who smiled, the coldness; my cherry red coat. The strangest thing is remembering that I didn't know there was anything wrong. When I realized that my shoes were too thin for the snow, I was frightened because my mama had made a mistake--and Mama never made mistakes! I didn't know what had happened to us, I didn't know what was going on at all.
I didn't know anything: I was only four.
I don't remember what I saw when my mother put me down, but I know how our hut must have looked when it was empty. I know that Rosita saw a rather long, narrow room (I thought it was big, until I knew it was our whole house), with a concrete floor. At one end there was a dark green enamel stove, with a chimney going up the wall. Beside the stove there were wooden sliding doors shutting off an alcove in the wall, that turned out to hold the bed Mama and Rosita shared. Along the edge of the cupboard-bed, the floor was covered by a kind of raft of wooden planks, gratefully warm to your feet compared with the concrete (which was like walking on gray ice, winter and summer). On the other side of the room there was a dark green sink, with a strange kind of spout standing by it and no taps. The walls were dusty bare planks, in places cracked so you could see the earth-bricks behind them. There was no ceiling, just the naked beams of the rooftree, and a shelf going all around, where the roof and the walls met.
Halfway down the room was a partition, with sliding doors like the bed-cupboard, but dark green and shining like the stove and the sink. Through there, Rosita would find the workshop where her mama was going to spend hours and hours, every day, turning out nails from scrap metal. The nails were to be used in the making of huts like ours, and furniture for huts like ours, in prison Settlements all over the wilderness: but the little girl didn't know that. She didn't know what the red light on the wall in the workshop meant either. She thought the machines were more ugly toys, and she hated it when Mama insisted on playing with them. All she wanted to do was to get out into snow, into the wild emptiness. . . . But if she had to stay in, why wouldn't Mama play with her?
When we arrived our hut had nothing, not even a mattress for the boards in the cupboard-bed. Mama had a wad of  start-up vouchers, better than the normal paper money of the Settlements (which was called scrip, and which would hardly buy anything, as we found out later). We went to one of the big buildings with our wealth, and bought a mattress, a table and two chairs, an oil lamp, and some lamp oil. There was enough to pay for delivery of the table and chairs. Mama dragged our mattress home herself on a sled, with me sitting up on top in my thin little baby shoes; then she returned the sled to the store. We had to go to another building for food supplies and kitchen things. We didn't have to buy fuel for the stove. The heat came through pipes, from a smoky, stinky brown-coal power station. We didn't have to buy water either. It came out of the spout by our sink when you pumped the handle . . . except in the worst part of winter, when we had to melt snow and boil it.
We thought we'd done well on that first shopping trip. In fact it was weeks before we had everything we needed. Mama didn't know how to live like this. She didn't know that you needed chemicals to drop down the hole in the earth closet, to keep it from smelling bad. She didn't know what a can opener was. We didn't know we needed vegetable seeds; or a sack of grit, to keep in the bin by our door. There was nobody to tell us these things. No neighbors came round to help us. We didn't have any friends until much later.

There were no warm clothes or thick-soled shoes for a little girl in the store that month, and there was only one clothing store, so I had to stay indoors. Mama spared an hour a day teaching me to read and to play with numbers. The rest of the time I was very bored, and I sulked a lot. I spent hours pressed against the workshop partition, crying for her to come out. But the nights were cozy. I loved being tucked up with my mama, under our new rough blankets, between our new, scratchy sheets. On one of those nights (this is my second true memory, the second treasure) I woke feeling cold and Mama wasn't with me. I sat up and dug out my socks, which I'd kicked off in my sleep (we slept in our socks, for extra coziness). I pulled them on and got down onto the raft of planks. The workshop partition was open a crack: I could see a moving shadow. Mama was playing in there, in the middle of the night. The stove was burning low. I went padding over, with the icy cold piercing through my socks and my little pajamas, and peered through. My mama was at work but the machinery was silent. She was crouched down on the floor, under the bench. In front of her she had a round white case; it was open. I could see tubes and droppers in a rack, and a row of glass dishes, all very small, like glassware for a doll's house. As soon as I saw these things, I wanted to play with them. They were so neat, so small, so perfect: and I loved the way Mama looked like a child, a little girl like me, playing down there on her knees, under the grown-up things. She had a strip of white gauzy stuff over her nose and mouth, and her fingers glimmered, as if they were coated in magic. I saw her take the droppers, and drop something liquid into each of the dishes. . . .

From the Hardcover edition.

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