Book Review: Winterdance by Gary Paulsen

WinterdanceCoverOfficial synopsis from Goodreads: Fired by a passion for running dogs, award-winning author Gary Paulsen entered the Iditarod, a grueling 1180-mile race across Alaska, in dangerous ignorance and with fierce determination. After a spectacularly inept period of training and an even more spectacularly inept start to the race, Paulsen and his team of 15 dogs ran for 17 days through the beautiful, treacherous arctic terrain. They crossed the barren moon-like landscape of the Alaskan interior and witnessed sunrises that cast a golden blaze over the vast waters of the Bering Sea. Enduring blinding wind, snowstorms, dogfights, frostbite, moose attacks, sleep deprivation and hallucinations, he pushed on. This book recounts his adventure.

Genre: Nonfiction, Wilderness, Adventure
early 1980s Minnesota and Alaska. Paulsen first ran the Iditarod in 1983.

My copy came from: I got this from

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Review: While adventurous and exciting, Winterdance wasn’t the book for me. I found it too sporty and I honestly didn’t have any interest in the subject matter. I’m definitely not the person this book was written for! Winterdance was a book club read for me, and I can say that had this not been a book club choice, I would not have picked it up. Reading books that I can only classify as wilderness books don’t really appeal to me. You know, those stories that talk of derring-do in the wilds of forests, deserts, snow, oceans, and the like? I’m just not interested in those types of stories. I much prefer my wilderness books to be quiet and contemplative about the scenery and life. I don’t like to read about fighting wild animals and/or surviving in below-zero temperatures. It’s just not my thing.

So, with that being said, this was just not a book that I was going to enjoy. I did go into it with an open mind, hoping that there would be contemplations on life and living in the book, and there were, but as a whole the book was full of too much action for me to enjoy it. It also didn’t help that I was told that this book was absolutely hilarious. I didn’t laugh once. So I was so confused as I was reading, as Winterdance is not written in a funny way, so it wasn’t like I just wasn’t getting the joke. Maybe it’s just because I don’t find someone being dragged for miles behind a sled funny. That just sounds painful and dangerous. I also don’t find tales of being lost in the woods, or being sprayed in the face by five different skunks in one night funny (okay, fine, maybe those skunks were kinda funny). Or crashing into trees. Or falling over cliffs. Or concussions. So this just wasn’t my kind of story. Instead of laughing when these things happened, I just kept thinking, how is this guy still alive? And why is he still doing this? And then I was cringing thinking of the pain he must’ve been in.

“My father says you’re crazy.”


“All of you. The dog drivers. He says you’re all crazy. Are you crazy?”

I thought about the old saw that if you think you’re insane then you’re not insane; truly insane people don’t know they’re insane. But by this time I frankly knew that I was insane—nobody sane would do this, any of this. “Yes, I’m crazy.”

He smiled. “I am nine. I already have four dogs. When I get to be eighteen I am going to go crazy, too, and run this goddamn race.”

Another thing I’d like to mention about Winterdance is that animal lovers might have a hard time with this book. Yes, there is a lot of talk of sled-dogs and good scenes that animal lovers will really love here, but there are also some animal cruelty scenes, and mention of animal trapping, and a horrific image about dog food production. So, those who find animal cruelty difficult to read about, you may want to stay clear of Winterdance, or at least go into it knowing that there are some extremely difficult scenes ahead. But there are also many heart-warming animal scenes as well.

True northern sled dogs like Devil, Ortho, and Murphy. Huge, gray-sided, yellow-eyed meat eaters that didn’t want anything but to pull and eat; no petting, no love, no hate, no touch. Just a harness and a horizon.

I can’t discuss Winterdance without mentioning the beauty and danger of Alaska. You really get a sense for how dangerous the Iditarod is, and how brave and foolish the racers are who run this race. I had no idea the race actually went over a frozen patch of the Bering Sea, and this scene in particular was harrowing to read. So, if you have any interest in the Iditarod at all, you may want to read Winterdance, as it talks about the race from the very beginning: the training, the getting to the race, the lead up to the race, and running the race itself.

Book Club Discussion

Winterdance was a book club read for me, and we had an engaging discussion of the book! While I personally didn’t find this book funny, I did laugh a lot during our discussion of the book, and I now find I appreciate the book more after discussing it with those who did love it. Our group was split on whether or not the book was funny. I think that Winterdance is a good book club choice, as it’s a fairly quick read that delves into topics like survival, animals, and humanity, but isn’t a heavy read.

So, while I could appreciate the book, and did learn a lot about the Iditarod and sled dogs, Winterdance just wasn’t a book for me. I think that those who love wilderness adventure tales, and those with an interest in the Iditarod would really love this book. It just wasn’t my kind of read.

Bottom Line: Full of adventure and wilderness, but it just wasn’t a book for me.


Amazon **this is an affiliate link which means that if you click the link and head over to Amazon and purchase something, then I get a small commission**


What do you think of Winterdance? Does it sound like your type of book? Have you ever been to Alaska? Would you like to compete in the Iditarod? Have you read any other Gary Paulsen books?


12 thoughts on “Book Review: Winterdance by Gary Paulsen

  1. Oh, Ami! Now this was funny: “Maybe it’s just because I don’t find someone being dragged for miles behind a sled funny.”

    This might be my kind of book, although I really like the way author Jon Krakauer takes a more journalistic approach to his subjects, including ones in which he’s participated, like mountain climbing. You get many perspectives and not the narrow look through one person’s eyes. Sometimes I felt like Cheryl Strayed was saying, “This is my story, and it was hard, but maybe you can do it, too.” It sounds like a young boy in this book got the same message from the man who wrote it (I’ll be crazy when I’m 18).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. hee hee 🙂
      It’s been such a long time since I read Krakauer – I think the only one of his I’ve read is “Into Thin Air”, and I see what your saying about the journalistic approach. This book is definitely more along the lines of Wild, but, while I felt like after reading Wild that I really knew Cheryl, I don’t feel like I know this author, Gary Paulsen, at all. I know he has an adventurous soul, but it didn’t delve as deep into the personal aspect of the story. Maybe that’s why I liked Wild so much. While Wild was an adventure/wilderness story, there was that personal struggle of surviving the past that was just as prevalent in the book as surviving the outdoors. This book, Winterdance, is really just about surviving the outdoors.
      And the people in my book club that loved it, really loved the book. It also has very high reviews on Amazon & Goodreads. Many people know Paulsen from the YA (or is it MG?) book Hatchet, which I’ve never read. I think that one is also an adventure/wilderness tale as well that’s taught in a lot of schools.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. That is interesting about Wild! Maybe those people are readers who just prefer the wilderness/adventure and not the personal. We certainly are funny! 🙂 It’s what makes reading and discussing what we read so much fun 🙂


  2. Detailed and well-analysed!
    Despite your not loving the book or its topic, you have provided a keen analysis of what it is about. I didn’t know about this race at all.
    And yes, I don’t think that the parts you mentioned are funny. But then, who knows?
    It seems like this would make a great film adaptation though.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yeah I don’t this would be for me either. I’m really not into this kind of thing either- I can just about get myself to work out- I have *zero* desire to explore extreme sports (and I frickin hate the cold) So I definitely get why you didn’t gel with it. And unfunny funny books are so disappointing. It doesn’t sound hilarious to me either. I’m glad you were able to laugh over it in your book club though! Great review 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!
      It did turn out to be a great discussion book! So that was really good 🙂
      I think it will be awhile before I pick up another outdoors adventure book – it’s really not my thing at all!

      Liked by 1 person

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