Book Review: Midnight Sun, Arctic Moon

Twenty three year old upstate New York native Mary Albanese graduated from college with two degrees and a burning desire to see Alaska. Despite a teacher shortage, Albanese was unable to get hired so she decided to do the next best thing and applied as a graduate student to the University of Alaska where she was accepted by both the education and geology departments. Although Albanese lacked several course requirements, she chose to pursue a career in the male dominated field of geology. Determined to prove herself, Albanese studied hard, lived frugally and reveled in the challenges presented by the summer field seasons and extreme weather.

In the midst of physically demanding work, exhausting class schedules and building the necessary support network required for her degree, Albanese met her husband Tom who understood the rigors of the geology department. Although their work frequently kept them apart, Albanese and Tom began carving out a life together through good times, rough patches and terrible loss. What emerges is a strong woman tempered by the Alaskan experience, capable of taking on colleagues and the inevitable changes life forces upon us all.

This deeply personal memoir effectively captures the trials of breaking into a predominately-male field, coping with severe weather conditions, living on a shoestring and facing down North America’s largest predators. Albanese glosses over the problem of rampant alcoholism and resulting social issues that go with it but does an excellent job of presenting the challenges posed by Alaska’s climate, size and remoteness. Readers need not have an understanding of geology to appreciate this smoothly paced coming of age tale set in the last frontier.

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