Stormy, Misty’s Foal

A raging storm slashes across Assateague and the Chincoteague islands. Water is everywhere! The wild ponies and the people must battle for their lives.

In the midst of the storm, Misty—the famous mare of Chincoteague—is about to give birth. Paul and Maureen are frantic with worry as the storm rages on…will Misty and her colt survive? This is the story of the hurricane that destroyed the wild herds of Assateague, and how strength and love helped rebuild them.

Readers looking for a good horse story will be disappointed in Stormy, Misty’s Foal. Throughout the story, people talk about Misty and worry about Misty, but Misty appears for only a brief time. Stormy, Misty’s Foal is similar to a survival story because it focuses on Paul’s and Maureen’s experiences with the hurricane. While the story has some tense moments, the realistic story has little action and readers may quickly become bored.

Paul and Maureen are both hard-working children who rarely complain. Throughout the hurricane, the community comes together to help those in need. While the main characters have positive attributes, none of the supporting characters are memorable. In addition, readers may have a difficult time understanding the colloquial language spoken by many of the characters. For example, Grandma says, “This ain’t easy, but I got eenamost enough to make a nice pot of cocoa.”

Readers looking for a story of action and adventure will be disappointed by Stormy, Misty’s Foal. The focus on Misty will become tedious especially for those who did not read Misty of Chincoteague. Even though Paul and Maureen have many positive attributes, their story is not unique or engaging. Readers who want a story that focuses more on horses should skip Stormy, Misty’s Foal.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • The storm floods much of the island and many animals are pulled out to sea. Paul “was staring, horror-struck, at the neighbors’ houses. Some had collapsed. And some had their front porches knocked off so they looked like faces with a row of teeth missing. And some were tilted at a crazy slant.”
  • In order to keep people from loitering, “Grim soldiers were patrolling the watery streets, rifles held ready.”
  • Grandpa helps to load the corpses of the dead horses. He says, “That all the days of my life I’ll hear that slow creakin’ of the crane liftin’ up the dead ponies, and I’ll see their legs a-swingin’ this way and that like they was still alive and kickin’.”
  • While the men were cleaning up the dead animals, the preacher “put up a prayer to the memory of the wild free things.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Grandpa sees one of his stallions dead and says, “Oh God!”

Supernatural

  • Grandpa says, “A goose washin’ in the horse trough/ Means tomorrow we’ll be bad off.” Grandpa’s uncle told him that “geese in the trough is a fore-doomer of a storm.”

Spiritual Content

  • Paul and Maureen tell their grandma a verse from the Bible in the hopes of missing a day of school. The two kids say, “There’s a time to sow and a time to reap. . .There’s a time to cry and a time to laugh. . .There’s a time to love and a time to hate. . .There’s a time to go to school and a time to stay home.”
  • When the storm starts, Grandpa “began to pray for all the wild things out on a night like this.”
  • Paul and his grandpa go out into the store and Paul prays, “Please, God, take the sea back where it belongs. Please take it back.”
  • When Paul and his grandpa make it home, Grandma exclaims, “Praise be the Lord! I been so worried I couldn’t do a lick o’ work. Just sat by the window praying double-quick time.”
  • To keep everyone’s spirits up, Grandma sings a hymn. “Jesus, Savior, pilot me, Over life’s tempestuous sea; Unknown waves before me roll, Hiding rock and treacherous shoal; Chart and compass come from Thee; Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”
  • Maureen is dismayed that she can’t help more. She asks, “Why was I born a girl?” Grandma says, “It’s God’s plan.”
  • The men prepare to go back to the island. Grandpa says, “But I say the Lord helps them as helps theirselves.”
  • When Grandpa starts to cry, Grandma says, “Let the tears out if they want to come. King David in the Bible was a strong man and he wept copiously.”
  • Grandpa and his kids sing Glory, Glory, halleluiah.
  • Grandpa, Grandma, and the kids go to church. The preacher says, “The earth is the Lord’s. He hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods. . . God is in the rescue business and every believer is a member of His rescue forces.” The church scene is described over three pages.

 

Deep Water

Twelve-year-old Julie Sims is still reeling from her parents’ separation and from being moved to a different city. On the other hand, she is looking forward to spending the summer with her father and helping him with his diving business. However, Julie soon finds out that her father hasn’t weathered the divorce well and his business is about to fail. When a rich client agrees to pay an extreme amount to go on a dive, Julie knows her father will have to say yes because he desperately needs the money.

When Julie’s father falls ill miles off the coast of Alabama, Julie knows she must guide the client and his reckless son, Shane, into the depths of the ocean. Both the son and father ignore Julie’s instructions during the dive. Julie realizes she’s in over her head, but it’s too late to avoid danger. When the anchor loses its grip, the boat floats away making it impossible for the scuba divers to locate it. Stranded in the middle of the ocean, Julie just hopes someone will find them before it’s too late. Can Julie keep everyone alive until help comes, or will they all sink to the bottom of the ocean?

Julie’s story focuses on survival and jumps into action right from the start. Deep Water is not a character-driven story but instead centers around Julie’s desire to survive and her conflicting emotions about Shane. Shane’s father is killed by a shark which makes the two teens realize that they must work together. As Julie gets to know Shane, she realizes that Shane’s bratty behavior is caused by the deep hurt he is hiding. Within this survival story, both Julie and Shane’s family dynamics are explored, adding another interesting element to the story.

Key’s love and respect for the ocean shine through the entire story. Even though Julie faces sharks, freezing waters, and other dangers, she doesn’t lose her love of the ocean. Deep Water is a suspenseful survival story that doesn’t rely on typical events. Instead, the story weaves unique elements to create an entertaining tale that readers will have a hard time putting down. The ending is predictable and the characters are not well developed, the story’s action and suspense will still entertain survival story fans. The Raft by S.A. Bodeen and Adrift by Paul Griffin will also be good for any readers who enjoy ocean-themed survival stories.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Shane yells at Julie, she “spun around and punched him in the face with all my fear and anger.”
  • Julie thinks about a shark story her dad told her. The sharks “often tore into each other by mistake. He saw one of the sharks with its stomach completely ripped out, still feeding for another few minutes until the life suddenly left it.” The other sharks “ripped it up even more and ate it.”
  • While stranded in the middle of the ocean, Mr. Jordan begins to thrash about. “He began lifting his arm from the water repeatedly, plunging the knife blade down at his imaginary sharks.” When Julie and Shane realize they can’t help him, they let go of Mr. Jordan. It is implied that the sharks kill Mr. Jordan.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Julie mentions that her mom takes anxiety medication.

Language

  • Someone calls Julie’s dad a jackass.
  • When Shane realizes his dad has the bends, he says, “We’re so screwed.”
  • Someone refers to another person as a jerk four times. For example, Julie tells Shane, “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to be nice to people. Why would you want to be a jerk?”
  • “God” is used as an exclamation twice. “Oh my God” is used as an exclamation once.
  • Julie tells Shane his dad is an idiot.
  • Crap is used eight times. For example, when Shane loses sight of a shark, he yells, “Where’s that one going? Crap! Where’s he going?”
  • “Holy crap” is used three times. For example, Shane sees a waterspout heading for him and Julie and says, “holy crap!”
  • When Shane is snarky, Julie tells him, “don’t be a smart ass.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team

The Wild Boars soccer team is made up of explorers. The 12 members ventured deep into the caves at Tham Luang, further than even some seasoned cavers. They were bold with their exploring, looked out for one another, and worked well as a team. However, their adventurous spirit was met with bad luck when the team and their assistant coach became trapped in the cave. With the wet season approaching in Thailand, the mountain where the cave was located was saturated with water and when it started to rain, the caverns began to flood.

When the team went missing, rescuers and problem-solvers were called to action to rescue the team. In order to save the soccer team, rescuers would need a well-thought-out, coordinated plan. It was going to be a huge undertaking. The book takes the reader through the timeline of the rescue mission and dives into broader topics that color the event. Soontornvat highlights the importance of STEM in the mission and goes into the scientific details about the cave and how the water and sediment affected the mission. At the same time, there are subsections in the book that go into the historical and cultural context of the local community.

Buddhism and meditation is an important piece of this nonfiction story. Part of what made the mission successful was that the soccer team did not panic and they were able to focus their energy with meditation. “When thoughts of hunger, pain or shame come in through one window, you can notice them, and then let them float right out the other window, keeping the room of your mind clear from all that clutter.” The Wild Boars were trapped in the cave for 18 days and they needed to look within to ease their pain. The subsections on Buddhism and meditation are a great introduction to Eastern religion and meditation practices. Without overwhelming the reader with specifics, the book takes these concepts and displays them in a way that is relatable to a younger audience.

Soontornvat also touches on geopolitical issues that are present in Thailand, such as immigration and religious persecution in neighboring countries. While the story is focused on the rescue mission, Soontornvat uses the experiences of the Wild Boars’ assistant coach, Coach Ek, to understand asylum-seekers. Coach Ek was forced to migrate to Thailand from Myanmar to escape the armed conflict. Migrant children face tough odds as they often do not have the necessary support systems to help them. Coach Ek considers himself lucky to have found the Wild Boars because he was able to find community and serve as a mentor to the soccer players.

The photographs in the book bring humanity and a sense of urgency to the story, as well as highlight the scale of the rescue mission. Many of the pictures were taken during the mission. The massive undertaking of bringing the Wild Boars to safety is captured with photographs of heavy machinery, the elaborate sump systems, and camo-wearing Navy SEALs. The book has a cinematic feel to it and the fast-paced life-or-death story keeps the reader turning pages. With loads of first-hand accounts, artifacts, and photos, the reader will feel immersed in the rescue mission.

One of the underlying themes of the book is that collaboration and teamwork can accomplish amazing things. There is no shortage of heroism in this story as people from all over the globe pitch in to save the boys. Donations are made, scuba experts consulted, farmers help with the sump system and the soccer team supports each other during the trying times. For the team, their support for each other was paralleled through the lens of soccer, helping to make it relatable to young readers. “Through their time on the soccer field, they know what it feels like to work as a team to tackle something that seems impossible.” Despite the danger of being trapped and impossible odds, through collaboration and sheer willpower, the boys are brought to safety.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Tham Luang has a mythology of the Sleeping Lady which visitors pay their respects to at a shrine. In the story, “he [a servant who loved the princess] was captured and killed by the king’s soldiers. The heartbroken princess killed herself. Her blood became the water flowing in the cave and her body became the mountain.”
  • When discussing the probability of the soccer team’s survival, Major Hodges says, “if they are in there, they’re probably dead, and if we’re lucky, we will find their remains.”
  • When contextualizing the background of Coach Ek, it is said that “groups such as the Rohingya of Myanmar, have fled their ancestral land because they are persecuted and murdered by their own government.”
  • While making plans for a recovery, there is a reminder that “a dead body requires a recovery. Rick’s experience as a firefighter has trained him to be unemotional about such things, but trying to maneuver a lifeless body through the twists and turns of a sump is a grim and dangerous task.”
  • One of the Navy SEALs dies during the rescue effort. “When Saman’s partner finally emerges, he is pulling a lifeless Saman behind him. The other SEALs rush to revive him, but it’s too late.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The soccer team is sedated during the rescue mission. “Dr. Harris has finally decided to give the boys a sedative called ketamine. Ketamine is a common drug used during surgeries when the patient needs to be unconscious.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The caves at Tham Luang “house giants who were defeated by the Buddha himself.”
  • Before the Wild Boars go to bed, Coach Ek “tells them all to pray together.”
  • When discussing meditation, a background on Buddhism is given. “It was through meditation that the Buddha arrived at the pillars of his great teachings that guide all Buddhists today. The Buddha taught people how to free themselves from the suffering that is a natural part of life.”
  • The Thai variety of Buddhism is often intertwined with other spiritual beliefs. It is written that “spirits are everywhere; they can be gentle and protective, or moody and vengeful. Either way, spirits should be treated as respectfully as the living.”

by Paul Gordon

When Stars Are Scattered

Omar and his younger brother Hassan have spent most of their childhood inside the A2 block of the Kenyan refugee camp Dadaab. After fleeing from his family farm in Somalia and becoming separated from his mother, Omar’s main concern is always protecting his only remaining family member, his nonverbal brother Hassan. Not only does Omar shield Hassan from the grueling chores of finding water and cleaning the tent, but he also cares for his brother when Hassan suffers seizures, or when he is teased by the other kids for only saying one word: Hooyo—“Mamma.” Omar also hopes one day his mother will find him and Hassan, and so he keeps all days the same. So, when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future…but it would also mean leaving his brother, his only remaining family member, every day.

When Stars are Scattered is an easy-to-read, beautifully illustrated graphic novel. Omar Mohamed’s story comes to life in this graphic novel about his childhood in a refugee camp. The story shows the heartbreaking events that lead to Omar going to a refugee camp when he was only four. Omar’s story chronicles the hunger, heartbreak, and harsh conditions he endured. The story also sheds light on other issues including women’s access to education, starvation, family loss, and the constantly looming struggle to get on the UN list that invites refugees to interview for resettlement. Despite difficulties, Omar is still able to create a sense of family and home in the midst of difficult situations.

Like all people, Omar is a complex character who struggles to make the right decisions. He also often has conflicting emotions. For example, Omar wonders if his mother is dead or alive. He thinks, “I love my mom, but sometimes I hate her for leaving us. It’s like these two feelings are tearing me apart.”

At one point, Omar wonders if school is a waste of time; however, his foster mom tells him, “Prepare yourself and educate yourself. So you can be ready when God reveals his plan to you.” Eventually,

Omar falls in love with the power of learning and the potential of resettlement. Omar begins to learn what it feels like to build a new life by focusing on what he is given, rather than remaining torn by what he has lost. It is in this way that Omar moves from searching the stars for his mother to actually feeling that, “Many years ago, we lost our mother. But maybe she is not gone. She is in the love that surrounds us and the people who care for us.”

The story teaches several important life lessons including not to judge others and to make the most of your life. Appreciating what you have is the overarching theme of When Stars Are Scattered. Omar’s best friend tells him, “I didn’t ask for this limp. But I didn’t ask to live in a refugee camp either. . . I guess you just have to appreciate the good parts and make the most of what you’ve got.” Despite his struggles, Omar makes the most of what he has been given and thanks God for the love of others.

Based upon the real-life story of Omar Mohamed, When Stars Are Scattered navigates themes of familial loss, grief, struggle, and finally, hope, all while addressing the permanent feeling of a temporary refugee camp and the heartbreak of a war-torn home country. Omar shares his story because he wants to encourage others to never give up on home. Omar says, “Things may seem impossible, but if you keep working hard and believing in yourself, you can overcome anything in your path.”

When Stars Are Scattered not only encourages others to remain persistent, but also sheds light on the conditions of the refugee camps without getting into a political debate on immigration. Instead, the graphic novel focuses on Omar’s story—his hardships, his hopes, his despair, and his desire to help others like him.

The narrative is occasionally intense and heavy in its consideration of grief and the lifestyle of a refugee, which may upset younger readers. However, the serious and very important subjects that When Stars are Scattered covers are overall presented in a digestible way for young readers. The graphics that illustrate the story are absolutely captivating for all, while the humor and uplifting optimism that perseveres throughout this novel can fill the hearts of any audience.

Sexual Content

  • Maryam’s family needs the money, so they allow Maryam to get married despite the fact that she is only in middle school. “Maryam’s husband is old, but he’s not too strict.”

Violence

  • When Hassan hugs a boy, the boy pushes him away. The boy tells Omar, “I don’t know why you bother taking care of this moron. He’s a waste of space. You should let him wander off into the bush to get eaten by lions.” Omar punches the boy, and they get into a fight. An older woman breaks up the fight.
  • While Omar is at school, Hassan wanders off and some kids “[take] his clothes, and… He’s pretty badly hurt.”
  • When Omar’s best friend says he’s going to America, Omar thinks about the resettlement process. He thinks, “I heard about one guy… His case was rejected by the UN and he couldn’t handle it. He… He killed himself.”
  • During an interview with the United Nations, Omar talks about the village he came from. Omar was playing under a tree when he heard men yelling at his father. Then, “Bang! Bang! Bang!” Omar ran to his mother, who told Omar to take his brother and run to the neighbor. The neighbor hides them inside, but “then I heard gunshots and screaming, and soon the whole village was running. There were angry men everywhere.” Omar and his brother run and stay with the people from the village, but they never see their mother again. The event is described over three pages.
  • When Fatuma describes her sons, she notes that “they were killed in Somalia” but there is not any explicit description as to how they were killed.
  • When Hassan tries to help Omar with collecting water one day, Omar gets frustrated and shoves Hassan, yelling “leave me alone!”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Some of the men in the refugee camp chew khat leaves. Omar explains that “a lot of men in camp chew Khat. They say it kind of helps you . . . forget things.”

Language

  • There are multiple times where some of the children are called by names based upon their physical appearance. For example, one child is called “Limpy” based upon a physical disability. Omar is also called “Dantey” for being quiet.
  • The story has some mild name-calling, such as idiot, jerk, and dodo head. For example, Omar thinks that one of the boys his age is “kind of a jerk.”
  • While walking to school, someone yells at two girls, “Hey it’s the mouse and the shrimp.” In reply, someone says, “Tall Ali… You’re like… A towering tree of an idiot.”
  • In class among the girls, A boy says, “You’re just jealous because you’re, what, number seventeen? I didn’t know we had seventeen girls in class. My goat could’ve done better than you.”
  • When Tall Ali becomes frustrated at Hassan for not understanding a game, he says to Omar, “ I don’t know why you bother taking care of this moron! He’s a waste of space. You should let him wander off into the bush to get eaten by lions!” Then he says to both Omar and Hassan, “Now I know why you’re orphans. That’s probably why your mom left you.”
  • When Jeri gives a presentation in school about how much he wants to be a teacher when he grows up, another classmate exclaims, “what a kiss-up.”
  • When Omar learns that all the teachers speak in English, he thinks, “Oh crud.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When community leader Tall Salan tries to convince Omar to go to school, he says, “Omar, only God knows what will happen in the future.” Omar’s foster mom Fatuma also says, “I think you should look deep inside yourself and see what God is telling you to do. If this is God’s will, then He will make everything okay.”
  • Omar and his brother practice Islam. Because of this, Omar recognizes that “Like every morning, I hear the call to morning prayers over the loudspeakers. It’s early, but today I was already awake.” There is also a chapter dedicated to discussing the Holy Month of Ramadan. This chapter shows Omar and his friends celebrating Eid Al-Fitr, which is the holiday at the end of this month. It is also recognized that Omar’s camp, and others near it, have a “loudspeaker that, five times a day, called everyone to prayer.”
  • When Omar decides to go to school, he prays “that [he’s] making the right decision.”
  • Omar’s foster mom tells him that God has given Hassan gifts. “Hassan is considerate, helpful, and friendly.”
  • When the community comes together to help Hassan, Omar thinks, “We may be refugees and orphans, but we are not alone. God has given us the gift of love.”
  • During Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, Muslims are supposed to fast from sunrise to sunset. Even though many in the refugee camp are always hungry, “people in the camp fast anyway… Just because we’re poor and hungry doesn’t mean we can’t observe the holy month.”
  • During Eid, Omar prays “for me and Hassan. That we’ll find a way out of this refugee camp—that someday we will find a home.”
  • When a social worker brings Omar a school uniform, he thinks, “you just try your best, and God will find a way to help you when you need it.”
  • Even though life has dark moments, Omar believes that “God will deliver an answer, and you’ll find a faith out of the darkness. The kindness of strangers. The promise of new friends.”
  • When Omar is waiting to see if he will be resettled in America, he thinks, “We’ve done all we can. It’s in God’s hands now.”

by Hannah Olsson

 

The River

Two years after Brian Robeson survived fifty-four days alone in the Canadian wilderness, the government wants him to head back so they can learn what he did to stay alive. This time Derek Holtzer, a government psychologist, will accompany him. But a freak accident leaves Derek unconscious. Brian’s only hope is to transport Derek a hundred miles down the river to a trading post. He’s survived with only a hatchet before—now can Brian build a raft and navigate an unknown river? For the first time, it’s not only Brian’s survival that’s at stake.

As Brian embarks on his journey, he realizes that being in the wilderness with another person isn’t the same as crash landing. There is no danger. No tension. And then Derek is injured, and Brian must make a life or death decision. However, the situation still has little suspense or action. Even when Brian is rafting down the river, there is little excitement, and Brian’s hallucinations are confusing. However, when Brian becomes exhausted, he thinks, “It would be better if Derek were gone. What were the differences? He was dumb enough to rise up and get hit by the lightning, and he should be gone.” Brian doesn’t give in to this momentary weakness and ends up saving Derek.

Even though The River follows Brian on another adventure, Brian’s character does not grow. Much of the plot focuses on Brian’s thoughts and emotions, which slows down the pace. The conclusion is abrupt and the secret that plagued him in Hatchet is never resolved; however, it no longer bothers Brian. The River has few intense moments and the plot and characters are underdeveloped, which makes it hard for readers to connect with the characters.

Readers who enjoyed Hatchet will find Brian’s journey interesting. However, if the slow pace of Hatchet made finishing the story difficult, you will want to avoid picking up The River. Brian’s next adventure, Brian’s Winter, takes the reader back in time and shows what would have happened if Brian wasn’t rescued after his plane crash. Readers who enjoy understanding character’s thoughts and emotions will find The River satisfying. However, if you’re looking for a more fast-paced survival story, Adrift by Paul Griffin would be a better choice.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Derek is hit by lightning. “Some thing, some blueness of heat and light and raw power seemed to jump from the tree to the briefcase and radio and enter Derek’s hand. All the same part of a second it hit him and his back arched, snapped him erect, and then it seemed to fill the whole shelter and slammed into Brian as well.” After being hit, Derek is in a coma.
  • Brian falls into the river and is swept along with the current. “. . .he was down again, mashed down and tumbled by the pressure wave, smashed into the rocks on the bottom, and all he could think was that he had to stay alive. . . He fought and clawed against the rock, broke his face free, then was driven down again, hammered into the bottom.” Brian finally finds the raft and is able to get on it.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • God is used as an exclamation four times.
  • When Derek is injured, Brian thinks, “The woods. The damn woods.”
  • When Brian decides to build a raft and travel down the river, he thinks, “Oh, hell, we just have to do this. . .”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Brian was trying to make a difficult decision. “Please, God, he thought—and did not finish it. Just that—please, God.”
  • When the raft is near huge rocks in the river, Brian whispers, “God. . . “

Storm Warning

Emily and her dog, Zack, have a special bond. But it’s more than that—they can read each other’s minds. Even more surprising, Zack knows when people are in trouble. Now, Emily and Zack are able to use their powers to save lives, though Emily is endangering hers in the process and making her parents worry.

When a hurricane warning is issued, everyone in town starts preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. After all, what are the odds of a hurricane actually hitting a small town in Maine? Emily and Zack don’t know what’s going to happen, but if the hurricane does arrive, are a girl and her dog enough to save a town from the destructive power of Mother Nature?

Unlike the first installment of the Dog Whisperer Series, Storm Warning lacks suspense and action. In order to establish Emily and Zack’s unusual ability to communicate, the story jumps back and forth between Emily’s school life and her personal life. In addition, the town is preparing for an upcoming hurricane. The multiple plot lines make the story disjointed. However, the scenes where Emily and Zack help injured people add some danger and excitement.

Middle school readers will relate to Emily, who wants more freedom and the ability to stay home by herself. While Emily’s family interactions show a healthy family unit, Emily’s parents struggle to balance Emily’s desire for freedom with their need to keep her safe. Several times, Emily runs after Zack in order to help an injured person and Emily’s parents react in appropriate ways. Even though Emily has a happy home life, she still struggles with the fact that she is adopted and has had no contact with her birth mother.

Most of the characters in this story were introduced in The Rescue, but Storm Warning further develops two key characters—Emily’s best friend, Bobby, and Mrs. Griswold, an elderly neighbor. For those who have read The Rescue, the development of these characters will help reinforce the idea that you should not make assumptions about others.

Unfortunately, Storm Warning has an anticlimactic conclusion with little emotional impact. In addition, Mrs. Griswold tells Emily a confusing fact about her birth mother that leaves Emily wondering if her adoptive parents have been dishonest about Emily’s parentage. However, the story thread is left hanging. Despite the lack of action, readers will enjoy the character development and Zack’s ability to sense a person in need. For maximum enjoyment readers should read The Rescue first. Those looking for a more suspenseful hurricane story should read Hurricane Rescue by Jennifer Li Shotz.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Zack’s veterinarian gives the dog some pain medication to help with an injury.
  • Emily’s father breaks his ankle and takes two aspirin to help with the pain.

Language

  • An older storekeeper calls a boy a “young punk” and “riftraff.”
  • Emily gets sent to the principal’s office and sits next to two boys. One boy tells her they were being jerks.

Supernatural

  • Emily can read her dog Zack’s mind. “It was sort of—psychic. Which was really cool, but also kind of unnerving. They had the exact same dreams and nightmares pretty often, and there were sometimes when she would find herself thinking something and then realize that, no, Zackary was thinking it.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

I Am Still Alive

Jess Cooper loses her mother and some of her mobility in a car accident. At fifteen—soon to be sixteen—years old, she is forced to live with her absent father in middle-of-nowhere Alaska. Then just as Jess was getting to know her father, a secret from his past leaves him dead. Jess is determined to survive in the wilderness with nothing except her father’s hunting dog and her wits.

Jess journeys through the wilderness to her father’s second cabin just as winter begins to set in. During her stay at the cabin, she plans her revenge against the men who killed her father. As winter continues, she also learns skills to keep herself alive and just how much the wild does not care about human life.

The first half of the book follows Jess in a “before and after” journal style as she recalls moments before and after her father’s murder.  With the change of point of view (from journal to the first-person present) the reader loses descriptions of Jess’s surroundings as the story becomes more of a stream of consciousness, which focuses on Jess’s inner thoughts. The journal-like style gives readers insight into Jess’s internal thoughts and worries. Understanding Jess’s personality and thought process allow readers to connect and sympathize with her.

Despite the many trials Jess goes through—the car accident, her father’s murder, her physical disability, and a lack of survival skills—she uses her wits and figures out ways to solve problems. Jess’s first obstacle is finding shelter. Jess recalls memories of building stick shelters in a small patch of woods with friends. She realizes that she does not need to chop down trees or find the greatest place to hunker down. She has the remnants of her father’s burned-down cabin, and a belt to help drag planks. Through Jess’s experiences, the reader will learn the importance of perseverance in the face of danger.

The style and wording of the novel welcome young readers, though the topics may be upsetting. While the violent death of a parent is a heavy topic, readers will gain insight into Jess’s emotions and feelings as she struggles with stressful situations. Readers who enjoy survival stories will enjoy the action and tension as Jess fights her father’s murderers. Readers also gain a sense of triumph as Jess completes her goal of survival in the wilderness.

I Am Still Alive is a quick read with an uncomplicated plot, but the act of surviving gives enough of a thrill to make readers want to know the end of Jess’s story. While she does not always learn from her mistakes—she often makes the same mistakes two to three times—she always puts 100% of her energy into planning a way around an obstacle. While the ending is not completely happy, Jess grows as a character from the city girl she once was. At the end of it all, she even feels a slight pull back to the wilderness. Jess thinks the wilderness is, “A place that does not love me and that I do not love. But we don’t expect love from each other, the wild and me.” Readers looking for other snowy survival stories should check out Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson and Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter.

Sexual Content

  • As she hides, Jess overhears the perpetrator of her father’s murder talking. The man “mostly talked about women. Talking about women in ways that sex ed and primetime TV did not prepare me for. I hated him more with every word.”

Violence

  • The book contains general talk about death in the sense of hunting, hunger, and survival. Skills on how to skin animals and degut them are described. For example, Jess’s dad “narrated everything he was doing as he took the fish and slit it along its belly. He told nobody in particular how to scoop out the guts.”
  • Jess reminisces about her mother’s death in the car crash: “. . .the world ended. Only half of it came back. My half. It was feel of wet cold rain and wet hot blood.”
  • Jess goes fishing with her dad. “Then [dad] hit [the fish] three times sharply on the back of the head with a little weighed club.”
  • Jess has a nightmare. The man “raises his hand, and there’s a gun in it. The gun roars with the sound of a fire, crackling and howling. Griff’s head kicks back. The air filled with red blood like mist, and it’s all over my clothes, it’s all over my hands and my face and in my mouth.”
  • People visit the cabin and “Raph kept smiling. And he took out his gun. And he shot my father in the head.”
  • While she hides from the people who killed her father, Jess debates her next actions. “I would have to get out to the plane and I would have to get the door open and then I would have to shoot him or stab him or whatever it was that I could possibly do to a man with a gun, a man whose friends had shot my father as he reached out his hand to shake.”
  • When Jess confronts the villain he “slams the butt of the rifle against my jaw.”
  • Jess defends herself against a man. “I bring the rock up in both hands and swing it as hard as I can at the side of his head.”
  • Daniel, the villain, attacks. “And Daniel, lying on his side with one arm twisted awkwardly under him. I watch for a long time, but he doesn’t move. He doesn’t breathe. Dead. My fault.”
  • When her dad’s hunting dog takes a bullet for her, Jess has to kill the dog as she cannot save him and he is in pain. “I aim the rifle between his eyes. He doesn’t flinch out of the way, only pants.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • After the accident, Jess takes medication for her pain. “Painkillers, the powerful kind, leftover from my prescription. I haven’t taken them in weeks, but I shake one out now and swallow it dry.”
  • Jess describes a boulder in the forest. “I remember a boulder. Dropped here by some long-gone glacier, it leaned a bit, like it was drunk.”
  • Jess, her father, and her father’s friend, Griff, are telling stories. “And Griff snorted beer out his nose and into his beard and then we all laughed about it.”
  • Jess’s dad describes Griff, saying “But eventually he always pours himself out of his bottle and comes back.”
  • Jess finds “a couple of bottles of beer at the back of the cabinet.”

Language

  • Ass is used once and asshole is used twice. For example, Jess reminisces about one of her foster families, and thinks, “George is an asshole.” Later Jess names a fox George, “because George was an asshole, and so was the fox.”
  • Jess describes her injury and how unbalanced she is. “Just snap and shut, and I’m on my face or my ass.”
  • Damn is used once. Jess tries to figure out how to survive, but she doesn’t “know a damn thing about making a fishing rod from scratch.”
  • Raph, the villain, talks about Jess’s dad. He says, “It’s his own goddamn fault.”

Supernatural

  • Jess finds the last bullets for her father’s rifle. “I’ll waste at least one bullet, maybe more. Maybe all of them. They were a talisman. A piece of magic I was searching for, but now I have them and I remember that magic isn’t real.”

Spiritual Content

  • Jess describes Griff saying, “Jesus is [Griff’s] personal savior.”
  • Griff tells Jess, “God loves everybody, and when you die he can finally tell you direct. That’s why heaven is so nice.”
  • Jess’s mother, who was a pilot, says, “Pilots don’t have to depend on memory, which will always fail sooner or later. The checklist is God.”
  • Jess says the Lord’s name in vain. When she swears in front of her dad, he says “Don’t say that. . . There is no Lord. God’s just a lie the powerful people tell the little people to keep them in line.”
  • Jess reminisces about how Griff and her dad interacted. “Dad didn’t seem to mind when Griff talked about God. Maybe because Griff’s idea of God was very odd.”
  • At the end of the novel, there is a memorial service for Jess’ father. Jess “stood in an empty chapel while a preacher said kind words about a man he didn’t know, a man who would have hated every mention of God and heaven in the service.”

The Canyon’s Edge

Nora’s birthday marks the one-year anniversary of the worst day of her life. To distract them both from the memories of a horrible mass shooting that killed Nora’s mom, her dad surprises her with a trip to explore a slot canyon deep in the Arizona desert. Nora hopes they’ll find some remnants of the happiness they felt when her mother was alive.

But in the twisting, winding depths, the unthinkable happens. Suddenly Nora finds herself lost and alone, at the bottom of a canyon, in the middle of a desert. Separated from her supplies, she faces dehydration, venomous scorpions, deadly snakes, and worst of all, the Beast who has terrorized her dreams for the last year. To save herself and her father, Nora must conquer her fears—and outsmart the canyon’s dangers.

The middle part of Nora’s story is told through poetry that uses repetition, alliteration, and other types of figurative langue to convey Nora’s emotions. Nora’s fear of “the Beast” becomes apparent as she imagines the man who killed her mother. “Now I feel the Beast below me, / sneering, sniping, snapping/ his snarling mouth / his claws outstretched, / waiting, patiently waiting, / for me to fall.” The poetry has an emotional impact and also creates a sense of panic, suspense, and fear.

The poetry creates wonderfully descriptive passages and the text often is placed to create a visual element that enhances the story’s emotion. For example, when a flash flood takes Nora’s father, the descriptive words are placed in the form of a whirlpool. The visual effect of the words helps the reader imagine the story’s events and the emotion behind them.

Nora’s story begins with Nora and her father building protective walls around themselves in order to shut out all other people. Nora suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares, and loneliness. Even though Nora struggles with understanding why her mother died, the story never explains why a man killed strangers. Yet the terrifying events in the canyon allow Nora to deal with her past and her story ends on a hopeful note as she begins to heal.

Even though the story uses Nora’s stream-of-consciousness narration, The Canyon’s Edge is not a character-driven story. Instead, the story focuses on 48 hours of heart-stopping tension as Nora fights to survive scorpions, dehydration, and other dangers. Nora’s emotional trauma, the death of her mother, and the life-and-death struggle she faces may upset younger readers, but will be enjoyed by older readers. The Canyon’s Edge will take readers on a twisting emotional ride that will stay with them for a long time after they put the book down.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • One year ago, Nora’s mother was killed in a mass shooting. Nora thinks back to the event. “First come the tremendous booms. My mother, singing to me seconds ago is shoving me under the table so frantically, so desperately, that I bash my head on the edge and her fingers leave bruises on my body.”
  • Sofia Moreno, a woman in the restaurant, tackles the shooter. “Sofia Moreno, / who died / while giving her two boys, / while giving everyone, / while giving me, a chance / a bigger chance. . . to flee, / to hide, / to act, / to survive.” Sofia is able to stop the shooter before she dies.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Damn is used once.

 

Supernatural

  • None

 

Spiritual Content

  • Nora’s psychologist tells her about Gerald Manley Hopkins, a poet. “He was searching for a pattern. He believed if he sketched the same wave twice, it would be proof. . . That there was a god.”
  • When Nora sleeps in a cave, she prays “for help, though I don’t know who or what could possibly help me here inside a hole in the wall on the side of a canyon.”
  • As Nora walks through the desert, she prays “for help.”

Dirt Road Home

Two years ago, Hal was sent to a state residence to keep him away from his alcoholic father. Hal escapes the boys’ home but is eventually captured. Now, he’s being sent to serve hard time at Hellenweiler Boy’s Home.

With his dad back on the wagon, Hal can walk out sooner than he thinks if he keeps his cool. But at Hellenweiler, trouble finds those who try to avoid it. In order to stay out of trouble, Hal tries to avoid the other residents, but two rival gangs each want Hal to pick a side. To make matters worse, Hal realizes the head of Hellenweiler, Mr. Pratt, is determined to keep Hal locked up. Is there any way Hal can stay out of the gangs’ fights? Will everyone believe Mr. Pratt’s lies?

Hal is determined to stay out of trouble, but other inmates notice his confidence and compassion. For example, Hal encourages the new arrival of Leroy to quickly choose a gang as Leroy will need protection. But after seeing Leroy and Hal interact, the gang leader chooses a cruel initiation task—beat up Hal. Hal quickly realizes Leroy’s struggle and promises not to fight back. Hal takes the beating because he knows it is the only way Leroy will be safe. Throughout the story, many boys fight each other. Some of the fights are barbaric and bloody, which may upset more sensitive readers.

Readers will admire Hal for his determination and grit. Hal’s experiences highlight the violent nature of boys’ homes and the corrupt system that is designed to keep the boys behind bars. The boys often fight each other and the guards gladly ignore much of the fighting. However, the guards seem to relish in being able to use violence to stop the fighting. While the story ends on a positive note, readers will be left wondering if all of the boys can be reformed or if are some of them already destined to live in a prison for the rest of their adult lives.

Full of violence, questionable characters, and suspense, Dirt Road Home will keep the reader interested until the very end. The story has a darker tone and explores difficult topics such as alcoholism, justice, and prison life. Hal and several other characters made an appearance in Alabama Moon. Even though readers do not have to read Alabama Moon to understand the story, understanding Hal’s background will help readers have empathy for him. Dirt Road Home is an easy-to-read story that illustrates how one person can make a positive difference in others’ lives.

Sexual Content

  • Hal dreams about his girlfriend and “the time I couldn’t help myself and leaned over and kissed her on the tailgate of my truck. And the way I’d felt when she’d kissed me back and then later when she’d stood behind me and put her hands in the front pockets of my jeans and pulled close against me.”
  • Hal kisses his girlfriend. “I leaned into her and kissed her on the mouth. Her lips were soft and tasted like cherry ChapStick. I’d been thinking about that kiss ever since.”

Violence

  • Two rival gangs try to recruit new boys. A boy chases after a basketball and gets too close to a rival gang member. “The Hound slapped the ball out of the Minister’s hand and bent down to get it. The Minister kneed the boy in the stomach and the Hound collapsed, holding himself.” An adult breaks up the fight.
  • As part of a gang initiation, Hal’s friend Leroy is told to beat up Hal. Hal tells him, “I won’t fight back, Leroy.” Leroy “drew back and hit me in the ribs. I grunted and leaned over and grabbed my side. . . He punched me hard in the stomach. I doubled over and went to my knees. . . He hit me across the face and I fell sideways. I rolled over and looked at him. Tears were coming down his face. ‘Kick me,’ I said.” Hal is taken to the infirmary.
  • When Hal refuses to join a gang, Tattoo “slammed his hand into my throat and pressed me against the wall. I gasped for breath as he held me there. . . He hit me again. I felt the coppery taste of blood in my mouth. Then I saw it running down his hand.” Hal is knocked unconscious. The scene is described over a page.
  • A gang member tries to make Hal throw a punch. “Jack’s hand shot out and grabbed me by the throat and pinned me to the wire. He was breathing heavy through his nose, and his eyes danced with craziness.” An adult intervenes.
  • When one of the boys refuses to fight, he disappears. Someone tells Hal, “Chase accepted a service he could not pay for. He is gone. . . He was taken away in an ambulance last night.”
  • Hal sneaks down to the basement intending to fight Jack. “I tightened my grip on the shiv and started to stand. Before I could rise, another figure slipped out of the darkness behind Jack and pulled him to the floor. The room was suddenly filled with screaming.” Someone beat up Jack. The next morning, one of the boys is found in bed with “blood staining his bedsheet and the entire side of his shirt.” Both boys heal from their wounds.
  • The two gangs fight. “It was a blur of chaos and confusion as the Hounds descended on their cowering prey . . .” Guards watch the fight and then one “stepped down onto the yard. Behind him came three more guards, each of them with his own club. . . Then I saw sticks rising and falling and caught glimpses of their faces, jaws clenched and eyes narrowed at the pleasure of what they dealt. I heard grunts of pain and more yelling. . . in the end, the guards stood in the settling dust. A few boys lay around them, moaning and curled into fetal positions.”
  • Paco explains how he became a gang leader. “I put a rock in my fist and walked up to their leader and hit him in the face with it until he fell to the ground and spit his teeth into the dirt.”
  • During a fight between the two gangs, “the boys are so worked up that they continue to fight and do not notice the guards. Perhaps even if they did notice they do not believe what is about to happen. . .” The guards attack the boys. After the fight, “there are several boys lying on the ground. One of them is not moving. . . Caboose’s younger brother.” When Caboose refuses to leave his brother’s side, “the guards close in and I hear the clubs hitting his back like punches to a side of beef. Slowly, after many blows, Caboose becomes silent. . . Then, after many more blows, he rolls over and falls across his brother.”
  • A guard finds a shiv in Hal’s locker. The guard grabs Hal and, “I felt the hand on my shoulder. I tried to twist away and the fingers dug clawlike into my collarbone and pain shot up my neck. Then I was hit hard from behind and I went to my knees with the room spinning.” Hal is put in solitary confinement.
  • Paco tells the story of how he ended up in the boys’ home. He was bullied. He became tired of the jeers and ridicule. “I snapped. I began picking up desks and throwing them at students from the back of the room. They screamed and ran for the door. . . All I had to do was throw the desk at the cluster of them.” Paco blames the boys’ home for turning him into a “violent youth.”
  • The gangs fight. Jack, one of the gang leaders, “charged and rammed Paco against the fence. . . Jack began driving his fists into Paco’s kidneys over and over while Paco did nothing to defend himself. . . Jack came at Paco again and began hammering his face with the fury of an insane person. . .” Paco’s friend Caboose “picked him up and put him over his shoulder like he weighed nothing. Blood drooled out of his mouth and down Caboose’s back.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Hal’s father is a recorded alcoholic. In a brief conversation Hal asks, “He goin’ to AA meetin’s?” Occasionally, Hal thinks about the past, when his father would drink whiskey.
  • When Hal’s father comes to visit him, Hal is worried because his father has lost weight. His dad says, “I guess I’ve been wired to the stuff [alcohol] for too long. Gotta get reprogrammed.”
  • One of the boys tells Hal, “My parents are in jail for sellin’ drugs.”
  • Before Hal had to go to the boy’s home, he spent time with his girlfriend. They were “drinking a couple of hot Budweisers I’d found in the toolbox.”

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes ass, crap, damn, hell and pissed.
  • Someone is called a wuss several times.
  • Christ is used as an exclamation twice.
  • Hal’s father writes Hal a letter. In it, he writes, “I figured you wanted her [Hal’s girlfriend’s] address, numbskull.”
  • While talking to his father, Hal calls his mom a “fat old nag.”
  • One of the boys calls someone a “dumb spic.” The boy replies, “Bring it on, cracker!”
  • Someone tells Hal that he will have to join a gang for protection. When Hal refuses, someone gives him a shiv. Hal says, “Then I’m screwed!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Hideout

Twelve-year-old Sam has been given a fishing boat by his father, but he hates fishing. Instead, he uses the boat to disappear for hours at a time, exploring the forbidden swampy surroundings of his bayou home. Then he discovers a strange kid named Davey, mysteriously alone, repairing an abandoned cabin deep in the woods. Not fooled by the boy’s evasive explanation as to why he’s on his own, Sam becomes entangled in his own efforts to help Davey. But this leads him to tell small lies that only get bigger as the danger increases for both boys and hidden truths become harder to conceal.

Hideout is a suspenseful survival story that delves into the complicated nature of friendship, self-esteem, and evil. Sam and his best friend, Grover, are savagely beaten. Sam is unable to forget about “the fight” and blames himself for the event. Told from Sam’s perspective, the reader gets an inside view of how Sam feels ashamed. He thinks that if he wasn’t a loser, “the fight” would have never happened. While Sam struggles with his own personal demons, he meets Davey who is living alone in the middle of a swamp.

Davey’s story is one full of hardship and mystery. Even though Davey is secretive, Sam is determined to help him. In doing so, Sam begins to tell lies that get him into a dangerous situation. Readers will be drawn into the two boys’ lives and wonder if their secrets will lead to their downfall.

Hideout expertly weaves the boys’ stories into an interesting, suspenseful story that is difficult to put down. The story ends on a happy note and shows Sam’s character growth. In the end, Sam learns several important lessons. He finally realizes that “there’s just bad people in the world. Sometimes they do bad things to people like us. But it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with us.” In addition, Sam learns that “being a man isn’t about winning fights and carrying guns. It’s about helping people however you can, no matter what.”

Fans of survival stories will enjoy Hideout’s fast pace, the surprises, and the life lessons. In addition, readers will empathize with Sam and Davey, who both struggle with hardships. Readers who enjoy Hideout should check out Key’s other survival stories which include Terror at Bottle Creek and the Alabama Moon Series. Readers looking for another intense survival story should check out ADRIFT by Paul Griffin and Surrounded by Sharks by Michael Northrop.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Leroy and Gooch beat up Sam and his best friend, Grover. Leroy “tripped Grover. . . he smacked hard onto the concrete.” Then, Gooch “shot out and his fist punched Grover in the chest so hard it sounded like a hammer thumping a wood barrel. Grover flew backwards into the lockers and collapsed . . .” Sam tried to help him and “Gooch’s arm slid around my throat and constricted me in the crook of his elbow. . .”
  • While Grover was still on the ground, Leroy “kicked him in the stomach and bounced him off the lockers like a soccer ball.”
  • During the fight, Sam “began to struggle against Gooch, trying to break free. Then I felt a sharp blow to my ribs, and what breath I had left me and everything went blurry. . . Gooch kicked me in the stomach . . . [Sam felt] blows to [his] face and stomach and arms until it didn’t hurt anymore.” Both Sam and Grover have to be hospitalized. The fight is described over three pages.
  • Sam’s father chases a thief. “I saw the big man sitting up and punching down. . . I saw Dad start to stand. Suddenly he was falling, and then he was gone and the big man was punching again.” Sam’s father is able to restrain the man.
  • Sam meets a boy who tells him, “My stepmom got a boyfriend, and Dad stabbed him in the stomach with the knife.” No other details are mentioned.
  • Davey was in a foster home. “My foster dad used to tell me I was like a stray dog that nobody wanted. He hurt me sometimes, but he didn’t do it so you could tell. He’d do things like press his thumbs up real hard under my armpits. . . If I yelled, he’d press harder until I got quiet.”
  • Davey’s foster dad sprayed him “in the face with some air freshener . . . Everything’s been blurry ever since.”
  • Davey’s step-brother, Slade, tells Sam, “And if you screw up, I’m gonna come to your house on Acorn Drive and kill you in your sleep.”
  • Slade got upset at one of his friends and “grabbed him by the throat with one hand. Jesse swung and hit him in the stomach. . . [Slade] punched him in the face. . . Slade kicked him hard in the ribs and he went down again, clutching his side.”
  • Slade kicks Davey “in the shoulder and knocked him over into the leaves.”
  • While trying to flee the swamp, Slade crashes into a patrol boat. Davey gets thrown and stops breathing. After receiving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, Davey is revived.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Slade and his friends show up with beer. The step-brother’s friends “were each drinking a beer.”
  • Slade and his friends are growing marijuana out in the swamp.
  • Sam’s father grabbed a beer.

 

Language

  • Profanity is used rarely. Profanity includes ass, crap, hell, and pissed.
  • A classmate trips Grover, Grover calls the boy a “dumbass” and a “stupid redneck.”
  • Someone calls Grover a “wuss.”
  • “Christ,” “Lord” and “my god” are used as exclamations seven times altogether.
  • Grover calls Sam’s dad a “redneck cop.”
  • Dumbass is used three times. For example, Davey’s step-brother calls him a dumbass.
  • Someone asks Sam, “Are you a complete idiot?”
  • While trying to resuscitate Davey, the officer says, “Breathe, damnit!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Sam’s family attends First Methodist Church.
  • When Sam’s boat is almost out of gas, he prays, “Please God, let me get home. Just this one time. . . Okay, God, I won’t go out there again [into the swamp]. Just let me get home and I won’t go out there again.”
  • When Sam goes to church, he “remembered my plea to God and tried my best to pay attention to the sermon as repayment for any help.” The preacher’s sermon, which was about the good Samaritan, is paraphrased in a paragraph.
  • Sam goes missing. When his father finds him, he says, “Thank God.”

Beautiful Wild

Vida Hazzard can see her future. Aboard the heralded “Millionaire’s Ship of the West,” she’ll charm the young scion Fitzhugh Farrar, resulting in a proposal of marriage.

But Vida didn’t plan on Fitz’s best friend Sal, a rough-around-the-edges boy with a talent for getting under her skin. Nor did she anticipate a hurricane dashing their ship and her dreams to pieces. Now stranded on an island with both Fitz and Sal, Vida is torn between the life she’s always planned for, and a future she’s never dared to want. As they desperately plot a course for home, Vida will discover which boy will capture her wild heart—and where her future truly lies.

Beautiful Wild has an interesting premise, but the predictable plot and spoiled protagonist make the story drag. First of all, Vida is a self-centered girl whose only goal is to snag Fitz as a husband, even though she has no genuine feelings for him. Vida longs for adventure but realizes “that the adventures of young women are adventures of the heart—or of husband-hunting. And that it was enough for you to see the heights of the world through the eyes of the man you would marry.” When Vida finally wins Fitz’s heart, she realizes her longing for clothes, parties, and acceptance in society means nothing to her. Unrealistically, she sails off into the sunset, alone and in search of her true love, Sal.

Even though the story is written in third person, Vida’s thoughts take center stage. Unfortunately, Vida’s conflicts are revealed through long-winded passages. In addition, readers may have a hard time relating to Vida because the girl is selfish and vain. Even after Vida learns that Fitz has been in a long-standing sexual relationship with his brother’s wife, Vida still wants to marry him so her own materialistic wants will be fulfilled. When Vida begins to have doubts, Vida’s mother reminds her of the importance of getting married, because if she doesn’t “your life will be aimless, and you won’t be anybody at all.”

Beautiful Wild has elements of a survival story as well as a romance but lacks action and character development. Vida’s two love interests are so undeveloped that the love triangle lacks suspense. However, readers will come away from reading Beautiful Wild with a new understanding of the restrictive lives women had in the past. The ending is predictable and lacks an emotional impact. Readers who like to understand a character’s inner musings may like Beautiful Wild. However, if you’re looking for a heartfelt romance or an action-packed survival story, Beautiful Wild will leave you disappointed.

Sexual Content

  • It’s revealed that Fitz had a sexual relationship with his brother’s wife.
  • Vida goes to find Fitz in the hopes that “Fitz would kiss her.”
  • Fitz kisses Vida. “His face moved toward hers, his chin tilted—in a moment she would close her eyes to accept his kiss. His hands spread over her waist, and she felt the press of his mouth against hers, and the warmth of his breath, and the pump of his heart.”
  • Vida asks Sal why he didn’t try to kiss her. She thinks, “It had been so easy to get Whiting, and Bill, and Theodore to kiss her—why should Sal be so difficult?”
  • After Fitz returns with help, he tells Vida, “When I was on that raft, in the storm, when the sea was all around me and we seemed certain to drown, I kept thinking of your lips, and I thought that if I could only steer her true, I’d survive and I’d be able to kiss you again.” Fitz then gives Vida a “chaste kiss just slightly off the mark of her mouth.”
  • Before her upcoming marriage, Vida seeks out Sal. “And then quite unexpectedly her fingers fluttered up, brushed his lips, his jaw, gently pinched his earlobe. . . Her mouth found his mouth. . . Then he returned the pressure of her kiss, and she knew what it was to want and be wanted in equal measure.”
  • Later, Vida thinks about kissing Sal and wonders “what the next kiss would have been like, and the one after that.”

Violence

  • Their ship sinks and Camilla’s husband dies. Vida sees Camilla “as she tried to protect the body splayed on the beach. A dead body.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • A gossip columnist writes that “the heir to the shipping fortune drank more than his older brother thought proper.”
  • Vida has a hangover after drinking a “hideous quantity of champagne.”
  • When the ship is ready to depart, “champagne bottles popped. . . cheers erupted.”
  • While at parties and on the ship, Vida drinks champagne.
  • Vida thinks about all of the gentlemen in a room. One man was “liable to drink too much and become boorish.”
  • Fitz tells Vida that when they are saved, the two of them will “play bridge, and we’ll have cocoa and whiskey and we’ll dance.”
  • When Fitz scolds Vida, no one notices because “everyone was a little drunk.”
  • When Vida’s father talks about her upcoming marriage, Vida stops him. “Her Father—Vida supposed—made a gesture that implied she’d been too free with the passing trays of champagne last night.”
  • At her engagement party, someone finds Vida upset. The person tells her to “have some sherry to fortify you for the rest of the night.” Vida drinks brandy, which “stung her mouth and snapped her back to this place.” As the night progresses, Vida drinks enough to have a hangover the next day.

Language

  • Damn is used five times. Vida is afraid that she will never get the tangles out of her hair. She says, “Tomorrow I will cut the damn braid off.”
  • My God and oh God are both used as an exclamation once.
  • Vida calls someone a bastard.

Supernatural

  • When someone gives Vida a knife, her mother tells her, “If you accept a blade as a wedding gift, it means the marriage will fail.”

Spiritual Content

  • Vida’s lady’s maid tries to hide the champagne glasses from Vida’s father. When he leaves the room, she says, “Oh thank God.”
  • The ship passengers hold a funeral service for a man who died. The man’s brother says, “He is with God now. May his soul be at rest.”
  • After the ship sinks, Vida is worried about a friend. She prays, “God, please, let her still be [alive].”
  • The surviving passengers are forced to hide in a cave. Vida “had prayed for the night to end.”

Alabama Moon #1

For as long as ten-year-old Moon can remember, he has lived out in the wilderness in a shelter with his father. They keep to themselves, and their only contact with other human beings is an occasional trip to the nearest general store. When Moon’s father dies, Moon follows his father’s last instructions: to travel to Alaska to find others like themselves. But Moon is soon caught and entangled in a world he doesn’t know or understand. Soon, he’s become the property of the government he has been avoiding all his life. As the spirited and resourceful Moon encounters constables, jails, institutions, lawyers, true friends, and true enemies, he adapts his wilderness survival skills and learns to survive in the world of people, and even, perhaps, make his home there.

While Moon’s life is not something most readers can imagine, they will soon be entangled in his story. When Moon’s Pap dies, Moon doesn’t understand why he can’t continue to live in his dirt hovel. Moon wrestles with his father’s ways as well as the world’s ways. Despite his loneliness, Moon fights everyone who tries to drag him away from his hovel to a boys’ home. Moon’s fight is both fast-paced, engaging, and full of surprises.

Alabama Moon takes the reader into the backwoods of Alabama and shows the beauty of living off the land. While the story is full of action, readers will also form an emotional connection to Moon’s story. In the end, many readers will be left in tears as they wonder why our world is so harsh. While Moon’s story ends on a hopeful note, Alabama Moon doesn’t shy away from the tough topics of death and the effects of war. But the main theme that shines is the importance of friendship.

The author’s love of the outdoors and his knowledge of nature allows him to paint a realistic picture of surviving in the wild. Alabama Moon combines intense senses with moments of tenderness and humor. The story highlights the father-son relationship and shows the deep love a son feels for his father—even when his father isn’t perfect.

Anyone who loves an action-packed survival story will love Alabama Moon. The characters are realistic and imperfect. The story doesn’t portray adults as always having the right answers, and some of the adults admit to having made a wrong choice. In the end, Moon realizes the importance of having friends and supportive adults in his life. Moon’s story will leave a lasting impact on readers and will help them appreciate the people in their lives.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When a store owner named Mr. Abroscotto says Moon’s father’s plan was crazy, Moon jumped on him. “I started hitting him with my one hand that wasn’t holding on to him. I pounded him on the cheek over and over as fast as I could. . .I kicked him in the knee.”
  • When a social worker shows up to take Moon to a boys’ home, Moon “balled my fist, and socked him in the crotch.” The social worker “pulled his knees in tight as a baby and moaned curses at me.”
  • When a constable tries to detain Moon, Moon tries to run away. Moon “punched him in the face as hard as I could. . . He stood up with me and crushed me against his chest. For a moment I couldn’t breathe, and I felt that my shoulders were about to snap. . . I spun around and bit him on the tit. . .” The constable is able to get Moon into the back of his car.
  • After the constable talks badly about Moon’s father, Moon, “Jumped at him. . . I bit into his shoulder and chewed at it like it was tough gristle. . . He grabbed me around the waist with both hands and squeezed so hard that my body shot with pain and I had to throw my head back and cough at the sky.” Moon pees on the constable. The constable squeezes Moon until Moon is sick.
  • The constable goes to see one of his renters, who is behind on the rent. He “suddenly let go of the steering wheel and backhanded the man across the jaw.”
  • When Moon gets to the boys’ house, he meets Hal, who trash talks him. “I swung my arm from under the blanket and hit him open-handed across the face. . . the big kid recovered and grabbed for my feet. . .” Mr. Carter breaks up the fight. When Hal is disobedient, “Mr. Carter took two steps and grabbed him by the shirt collar. He lifted Hal like a scarecrow and dragged him across the room. He hung there, red-faced and coughing against the shirt that pressed into his throat.” Mr. Carter throws Hal outside and makes him sleep in the cold.
  • Hal approaches Moon. “Hal was walking faster, and he seemed to have something in mind for me. . . While I was crouched down, I hit him as hard as I could in the crouch. Then I covered my face with my hands and started rolling across the ground.”
  • The constable, Sanders, puts Moon on a leash and drags him around. “After we had traveled about a mile, Sanders yanked the leash so hard that I coughed against it. A sharp pain shot up into my head, and I gritted my teeth again. . . I rushed against the leash and felt it jerk me backwards until I lay flat in the leaves. Sanders laughed over me.” When another adult sees Sanders and questions him, Moon is able to run away.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Moon is put in jail. “The only other person in a cage, across the hall from me . . . said they locked him up for being too drunk and wrecking his car.”
  • The constable uses Copenhagen chewin’ tabacco.
  • Hal’s father is a drunk. Hal says, “My daddy never did learn to read good. He was so drunk most of the time, he could barely see.” When Hal’s father is driving home, he “pulled a bottle of whiskey from under the truck seat and took a swallow.”
  • When Moon walks up to Hal, Hal “held out a bag of Red Man chewing tobacco” and asked, “you want some?”

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes ass, crap, damn, hell, and piss.
  • God and Jesus are both used as an exclamation several times. For example, after Moon hit Mr. Abroscotto, he said, “God, that hurt!”
  • Several times someone called Moon a “little bastard” and a “militia bastard.”
  • The constable asks a jailer, “Where’s that little pissant?”
  • The constable tells Moon, “You ain’t nothin’ but white trash. Worse than white trash. . . You’re stinkin’ militia trash, is what you are.” The constable tells Moon that his dad was “some dirty low-life.”
  • Four times, the constable uses the word “sum-bitch.”
  • Someone tells Moon that Sanders “is a bully and a bigot. . . He’s unintelligent, and he’s mean and he’s in a position of power. That’s a bad combination to be facing.”
  • A police officer tells Moon, “You’re a real pain in the ass, you know.”
  • Moon’s aunt says, “My Lord” twice. For example, when Moon tells his aunt that he’d like to eat four times a day, she says, “My Lord!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Moon’s father “said you passed and came back as something else. It could be a squirrel or a coon. It could be a fish or an Eskimo. There was no way to tell.”
  • At the boys’ home, a prayer is said before dinner.
  • Moon’s father “told me I could talk to him be writin’ letters and burnin’ ‘em. He said you can talk to dead people that way.” Moon does this several times.

 

 

I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912

George Calder must be the luckiest kid alive. He and his little sister, Phoebe, are sailing with their aunt on the Titanic, the greatest ship ever built. George can’t resist exploring every inch of the incredible boat, even if it keeps getting him into trouble.

Then the impossible happens: the Titanic hits an iceberg and water rushes in. George is stranded, alone and afraid, on the sinking skip. He’s always gotten out of trouble before…but how can he survive this?

Readers will relate to George, whose curiosity gets him into trouble. Because George loves to explore, the reader is able to see different areas of the Titanic. In the end, George’s curiosity helps him save his sister and aunt. Even though the story focuses on the Titanic, George is also dealing with the death of his mother, which has caused friction between George and his father. However, George’s relationship with his sister is sweet and adds some humor to the story. Because George has many facets to his personality, the conclusion has several surprises that give depth to the story.

I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 answers the broad questions about the day’s events without giving readers a graphic image of the passengers’ deaths. When the ship begins to sink, George’s curiosity and perseverance help keep him and others safe. Even though the story is historical fiction, the ending doesn’t focus on those who died. Instead, the story leaves the reader with a sense of loss and with a sense of hope. In the end, George and his father begin to repair their relationship.

I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 uses a relatable character and suspense to answer readers’ questions about the sinking of the Titanic. The story is accessible to all readers because Tarshis uses short paragraphs and simple sentences. Realistic black and white illustrations are scattered throughout the story and break up the text. While the story weaves interesting facts through, the book also ends with more facts about the Titanic. I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 uses kid-friendly descriptions to educate readers about the Titanic and can be used as a springboard for learning more about the sinking of the ship. Proficient readers who would like to learn more about the Titanic should add Survival Tails: The Titanic by Katrina Charman to their must-read list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • George snuck into the baggage room, trying to find a mummy that was rumored to be on the ship. While there, “something leaped out of the shadows and pushed him to the ground.” George sees a man “with glittering blue eyes and a scar running down the side of his face.” Before the man could hurt George, “there was a tremendous rumbling noise… A trunk tumbled off a shelf and hit the scar-faced man on the head.”
  • When the Titanic begins to sink, a steward locks a gate so the third class passengers cannot go up deck. As the passengers begin to get rowdy, the steward “took a pistol from his pocket. His hand shook as he waved it toward the crowd.”
  • George’s aunt and sister are able to get on a lifeboat, but George is left on the ship’s deck. As the Titanic was sinking, “Lounge chairs sailed past them and crashed over the side. People clung to the rails. A few slipped and were swept overboard.” A man helps George jump into the water and swim away from the sinking ship.
  • When the ship goes down, George hears “people calling for help. More and more people, screaming and yelling, hundreds of voices swirling together like a howling wind.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Dog Driven

Fourteen-year-old McKenna Barney is determined to keep her failing eyesight a secret, even if that means distancing herself from everyone—her friends, her parents, and even her sister. The only place McKenna feels any peace is when she’s on the trail with her dogs.

McKenna’s sister, Emma, is fighting a losing battle against eye disease. When Emma asks McKenna to enter a dog sled race, McKenna can’t say no. McKenna plans on leading a team of eight sled dogs in a race, even though she’s not sure she can see the dangers on the trail. To finish the race, McKenna will have to face three days of shifting lake ice, sudden owl attacks, and bitterly cold nights. As McKenna deals with snow squalls in the Canadian Wilderness, she must also come to terms with her terrifying vision loss.

McKenna hides the truth from everyone, including her toughest rival, Guy. As McKenna and Guy become friends, she wonders if she will be able to keep her secret from him. Is McKenna willing to risk everything, including her life, to keep her secret safe?

Throughout the story, McKenna’s fear of losing her sight and her independence becomes clear. McKenna’s parents cannot deal with her sister’s loss of vision. Between her overprotective mother and her angry father, Emma’s life is far from normal. McKenna is determined not to be a burden to her parents. As she drives her team of dogs through the wilderness, McKenna learns that with help, her loss of vision does not have to stop her from achieving great things.

Dog Driven is an easy-to-read story that shows the harsh conditions of the Canadian Wilderness. Throughout the story, McKenna faces every obstacle with the help of her dogs and her new friends. With family drama, teen pranks, and terrifying winter conditions, Dog Driven will entertain readers until the very end. Even though the story discusses the eye disease, Stargardt, the information never slows down the pace of the story. Instead, seeing the disease through McKenna’s point of view will allow readers to understand the effects of the disease as well as how one family deals with it.

Readers will sympathize with McKenna and cheer for her as she continues the race. Her friend, Guy, adds interest to the story when he discusses how his relative used a dog sled to deliver mail in the 1800s. Each short chapter ends with a letter—sometimes the letter is from the current time, and other times the letter is from the past. The letters incorporate other people’s thoughts and experiences, which gives the story more perspective. Dog Driven will not disappoint readers; the story will take readers on an epic race across the ice. Snuggle up with a warm blanket and sled your way into the Canadian wilderness with McKenna and her dogs.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • An owl attacks McKenna’s head. “I can’t help laughing as I probe the back of my head. There’s a tender spot and a bit of blood.”
  • A group of dogs get in a fight. “Horrifying sounds of their fight seep into me and root me where I stand. Mad chaos. Dogs everywhere snapping and scrabbling, some trying to get away, some tearing into whoever appears to be losing. It’s the biggest dog brawl I’ve ever seen.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Oh my God” is used as an exclamation twice.
  • Crap and heck are both used once.
  • Freaking is used three times. For example, when McKenna gets attacked by an owl, she says, “I’m going total ninja on this freaking owl if he comes back, I swear.”
  • When a dog fight breaks out, someone says, “Oh-God-Oh-God-Oh-God.”

Supernatural

  • Guy makes a comment about a wendigo. “I grew up hearing how ice caves are doorways to the Otherworld. The malevolent spirit of the early people, the wendigo, was the bringer of winter starvation and disease.”

 

Spiritual Content

  • McKenna’s mom says, “Thank God you’re whole, McKenna, and we don’t have to worry about you.”
  • When someone gives McKenna a pair of sunglasses, she thinks, “Thank God for Harper giving me her spare.”

Hatchet

Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is struggling after his parents’ divorce. Brian has been keeping a dreadful secret from his father. Brian is on his way to visit his father when the single-engine plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness. When the plane sinks, Brian is left with nothing but a tattered windbreaker and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present.

Brian has no time for anger, self-pity, or despair—it will take all his know-how and determination to survive. He will need to build a shelter, find food, and battle the elements. Will Brian have enough courage to survive?

Fans of survival stories will find Hatchet an interesting story of man vs. nature. While most of the story focuses on Brian’s struggle to survive, he is also struggling with keeping a secret. Most of the story’s conflict is internal. However, there are also several intense scenes when Brian must battle nature—both a tornado and an angry moose.

Brian’s experiences change him and when he is rescued, Brian realizes that he will never be the same. The new Brian is confident in his ability. He observes his surroundings and thinks before speaking. But the most important change is that Brian knows the importance of taking action instead of sulking in self-pity.

Hatchet is a Newberry Honor Book that shows the importance of “willpower, patience, hope, courage, and trusting your instincts.” Because much of the action is internal, readers may struggle with the slower scenes. At the end of the story, readers will find four pages of discussion topics. Readers who are reluctant to tackle Hatchet, but enjoy survival stories should add The Raft by S.A. Bodeen to their must-read list.

Sexual Content

  • While on a bike ride, Brian sees his mom in “a station wagon with the man. And she had leaned across and kissed him, kissed the man with the short blond hair, and it was not a friendly peck, but a kiss.” The kiss is described over a paragraph and is referred to several times in the story.

Violence

  • Brian must hunt to survive. He hunts birds with a spear. “The bird had sat and he had lunged and the two points took the bird back down into the ground and killed it almost instantly—it had fluttered a bit—and Brian had grabbed it and held it in both hands until he was sure it was dead.” After Brian kills the bird, he “just pulled the skin off the bird. Like peeling an orange, he thought, sort of. . . He quickly cut off the neck with his hatchet, cut the feet off the same way, and in his hand he held something like a small chicken with a dark, fat, thick breast and small legs.” The scene is described over two pages.
  • A moose attacks Brian. The moose “took him in the left side of the back with her forehead, took him and threw him out into the water and then came after him to finish the job. . . As soon as he moved, the hair on her back went up and she charged him again, using her head and front hooves this time, slamming him back and down into the water, on his back this time, and he screamed the air out of his lungs and hammered on her head with his fist and filled his throat with water and she left again.” Brian is injured and his ribs are “hurt bad.” The attack is described over two pages.
  • A tornado destroys Brian’s shelter. “He was taken in the back by some mad force and driven into the shelter on his face, slammed down into the pine branches of his bed. At the same time the wind tore at the fire and sprayed red coals and sparks in a cloud around him. . . He was whipped against the front wall of the shelter like a rag, felt a ripping pain in his ribs again, then was hammered back down into the sand once more while the wind took the whole, wall. . .”
  • The plane that Brian was a passenger in crashes, and the pilot dies. The plane is submerged until a storm brings it up. Brian sees the pilot. “He saw the pilot’s head only it wasn’t the pilot’s head any longer. The fish. . . They had been at the pilot all this time, almost two months, nibbling and chewing and all that remained was the not quite cleaned skull. . .”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • God is used as an exclamation three times. For example, Brian thinks about his parents’ divorce, “God, he thought, how he hated lawyers who sat with their comfortable smiles and tried to explain to him in legal terms how all that he lived in was coming apart.”
  • When a man finds Brian, the man says, “Damn. You’re him, aren’t you? You’re that kid?”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001

The only thing Lucas loves more than football is his dad’s friend Benny, a firefighter and former football star. He taught Lucas the game and helped him practice. So, when Lucas’s parents decide football is too dangerous and he needs to quit, Lucas has to talk to his biggest fan.

On a whim, Lucas takes the train to the city instead of the bus to school. It’s a bright, beautiful day in New York. Just as Lucas arrives at the fire house, everything changes…and nothing will ever be the same again.

Lucas’s story will capture readers’ attention because it begins by focusing on Lucas’s love of football. At first, Lucas is devastated that his parents want him to quit football, as he has had three concussions in two years. Like many preteens, Lucas is impulsive and doesn’t think through his plan to skip school and go into New York to talk to Benny. However, as Lucas witnesses the attacks of September 11, he realizes that football is not the most important thing in life. At first, Lucas was worried that he would lose the friendship of his football friends. However, he realizes that his football friends still have his back, even if he isn’t on the field.

The blending of football and the attacks on the Twin Towers is a little awkward at first. However, the mix of the two topics allows Tarshis to highlight the importance of family, friends, and supporting each other through many situations. Even though the story gives details about the attacks of September 11, the events are described in a kid-friendly manner. The story does not go into vivid details, but it allows younger readers to get a glimpse into the tragedy of September 11. The end of the book has a timeline of the events of September 11 as well as questions and answers about the tragic day.

I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001 answers the broad questions about the day’s events without giving readers a graphic image of the death and destruction. Readers who are curious about the attacks will see the events through Lucas’s eyes and understand his fear and worry. Not only will readers learn facts about the attack, but they will also learn the dangers of concussions and the importance of friendships.

The story is accessible to all readers because Tarshis uses short paragraphs and simple sentences. Realistic black and white illustrations are scattered throughout the story and help bring the story alive. I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001 uses suspense and a simple plot that will answer readers’ questions about the attacks on the Twin Towers. Although the story doesn’t go into detail, the story is a good starting point for curious readers.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Lucas is near the Twin Towers when the first plane hits the Twin Towers. “There was a thundering explosion. People all around Lucas screamed. And then the bright blue sky filled with black smoke and fire.”
  • When the plane hit the tower, “black, fiery smoke gushed out of a huge gash in the building’s side, billowing into the sky. Lucas turned away. He couldn’t look anymore.”
  • A news reporter says, “We have just witnessed the horrific sight of a second plane hitting the other tower—the South Tower… There was a massive explosion.”
  • Lucas and his father were fleeing to safety when one of the towers collapsed. “There was the sound of shattering glass and a powerful blast of hot wind. Minutes passed. Lucas squeezed his eyes shut and covered his ears. His mouth and nose filled with gritty dust. It was hard to breathe.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Lucas watches the news on TV. The man on TV says, “Oh, my God! What was that? Another explosion!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When the firefighters began returning to the station, Lucas kept praying that Uncle Benny would be alright.

I Survived the Japanese Tsunami, 2011

Ben’s father had always wanted to take his family to his hometown in Japan. After he dies, Ben thinks his mom will cancel the trip, but Ben’s mom is determined to visit Shogahama. While in the small coastal village, Ben tries to avoid his uncle. Ben doesn’t want to see the pine forest his father explored, and he doesn’t want to see the cherry tree his father thought was magic. Consumed with grief, Ben refuses to think about his father.

A massive earthquake rocks the village, nearly toppling his uncle’s house. Then, the ocean waters rise and Ben and his family are swept away—and pulled apart—by a terrible tsunami. Ben is alone, stranded in a strange country millions of miles from home. Can he fight hard enough to survive one of the most epic disasters of all time?

When Ben is being swept out to sea, he doesn’t know if he has enough strength to survive. While he is floating in the sea, he thinks back to his dad’s words: “the fear is always there, but you can’t let it take over.” When Ben is trapped in a car, he thinks about his father’s water survival drills. Ben uses this knowledge to break out of the window and escape. Before the tsunami, Ben doesn’t want to think about his father. After the tsunami though, Ben realizes, “It was Dad who got Ben through his moments of panic in the quake, who helped him escape from that drowning car. It was Dad’s wisdom that echoed through Ben’s mind in those dark moments when he was alone in the ruins.”

Full of suspense, I Survived the Japanese Tsunami, 2011 uses kid-friendly descriptions to show the devastation of the tsunami. Even though Ben is scared, he shows bravery when he protects his brother during an earthquake. While the story focuses on the disaster, the story also gives readers a glimpse of Ben’s father’s experiences, which adds depth to the story. Even though the story is about survival, it also highlights the importance of relying on others in difficult times.

I Survived the Japanese Tsunami, 2011 is told from Ben’s point of view, which allows the reader to see the events without graphic details that might scare them. Throughout the story, Ben learns to deal with his grief over his father’s death. Even though the story deals with a natural disaster, it has some unexpected humor that breaks up the tension. In addition, Star Wars fans will enjoy the references to Darth Vader.

The story is accessible to all readers because Tarshis uses short paragraphs and simple sentences. Realistic black and white illustrations are scattered throughout the story and will help readers visualize the events. The story also shows people coming together to help each other during a difficult time. While the story weaves interesting facts throughout, the book also ends with more facts about the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. The I Survived Series gives readers a glimpse into deadly situations without including scary details. Each book is told from a young person’s point of view, which will help readers connect with the narrator.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After surviving an earthquake, a tsunami appears. “The wave carried parts of houses, a smashed car, an entire pine tree, slabs of wood and metal. It was devouring everything in its path. Two men were running on the sidewalk. Ben gasped as the wave swallowed them whole.”
  • Ben’s family jumps into a car and attempts to race away, but the water catches up to them. Ben’s mother, brother, and uncle are swept out of the car, but Ben is stuck inside of it. “But the water was higher now, thrashing the car back and forth. The door slammed shut. Waves crashed over the roof of the car. Freezing water gushed in, surrounding Ben. In seconds, it was up to his chest.”
  • Ben escapes from the car and still almost drowns because “the water seemed to be alive, with powerful arms that thrashed Ben, tore at him. Each time he fought his way to the surface to take a breath, the water grabbed him and pulled him down again.”
  • After Ben gets to dry land, he walks through the wreckage. “Ben hoped that one day he’d forget the terrible things he’d seen as he walked: the arm sticking out from under a pile of wreckage, the old man carrying a lifeless-looking woman on his back.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Hurricane Rescue

A dangerous hurricane is racing towards Ben’s hometown. Ben promises his father that he will stay safe inside their home. Ben doesn’t mean to disobey his father, but when Jack and his puppy, Scout, go missing, Ben knows he has to help. With the help of his friend Noah and retired search-and-rescue dog Hero, Ben sets off into the woods in search of his missing friend.

Ben, Noah, and Hero desperately try to locate Jack. When they find Jack, they soon realize that a raging flash flood has made it impossible to continue their trip. Together, Hero and Ben fight to keep everyone alive. But can Hero battle his way past alligators, mudslides, and raging floods?

With howling winds, angry alligators, and danger hiding in every corner, Hurricane Rescue is a fast-paced story that has surprises around every corner. Hurricane Rescue is told from Ben’s point of view, which allows the reader to understand his thought process and experience Ben’s worry about his missing friend Jack. Through their harrowing ordeal, Hero comes to the rescue time and time again. However, in the end, everyone must work together to make sure that everyone makes it out alive.

Hurricane Rescue is an engaging story that doesn’t only focus on the hurricane. Instead, the story also shows the importance of the father-son bond. While Ben lives in a traditional two-parent household, Jack’s parents are recently divorced, which makes it difficult for Jack to see his father on a regular basis. Jack’s grief over missing his father causes him to make the dangerous decision of sneaking off in order to try to make it to his father’s house, which is in a different town.

Told from Ben’s point of view, the readers understand why Ben isn’t truthful. Ben lies to Jack’s mother, intentionally disobeys his father, and leads his friend into danger. Even though the story ends happily, Ben should have been honest with the adults in his life instead of jumping into a dangerous situation on his own. Ben’s impulsive actions and dishonesty were also portrayed in the first book of the series.

Hero plays a main role in the story, and readers will enjoy seeing how Ben and Hero work together. The suspenseful story has likable, well-developed characters who show bravery and courage. However, some of the rescue scenes are unrealistic. Despite this, Hurricane Rescue will keep readers engaged until the last page while it illustrates the importance of rescue workers, such as the National Guard and police officers. Readers who enjoyed Hurricane Rescue should also try Survival Tails: Endurance in Antarctica by Katrina Charman.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • An alligator keeps Hero from helping a dog in trouble. Hero distracts the alligator. “The alligator’s front half was on land. His giant jaw stretched open, revealing sharp, angled teeth. . . Ben’s stomach flipped as the alligator snapped his jaw shut with a loud clack.” No one is injured.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • After a strange encounter, Ben’s friend asks him, “What the heck was that about?”
  • When Ben first met Jack, Ben thought Jack was “kind of a jerk.”
  • While Jack is trapped under a tree, he says, “Well, it kind of feels like it’s all on me, so why don’t you wimps lift this thing off me already?”
  • Jack tells his friend, “I’m sorry, Ben. I’m a total idiot.” Ben replies, “Well, now you’re a total idiot who’s been rescued.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Ben’s friend is in trouble, Ben thinks that he should “pray that Jack and Scout would be okay.”

Hero #1

Hero, a retired search-and-rescue dog, is not prepared for a stray puppy to come into his life. But when he and a twelve-year-old boy, Ben, discover Scout is injured and afraid, Hero is determined to give the tiny pup a home. Ben promises his parents that he will be able to care for both of the dogs and still be able to keep up on his school work.

When Scout hears a loud noise, he becomes frightened and runs off, disappearing. Hero and Ben go in search of Scout, but soon Ben and Hero find themselves going down dangerous and unexpected paths. Ben soon learns that he has gained the attention of Mitch, the leader of a dogfighting ring. Mitch is determined to capture both Scout and Hero in order to make the dogs fight. Can Ben find his dogs and bring them home before it’s too late?

Ben is excited when he learns that the police department has agreed to let him take care of Hero. However, Ben soon finds that taking care of a dog isn’t as easy as he thought. Soon, Ben is falling behind in school and forgetting important obligations. Ben’s father has always taught him to act with purpose, but Ben seems to be messing up more and more.

When Scout and Hero are missing, Ben intentionally lies to his family about the dogs’ whereabouts because he doesn’t want to get in trouble. He also sneaks out of the house and puts himself and his friend Noah in dangerous situations. When Ben finally talks to his parents, he justifies his actions by thinking that he “hadn’t lied, exactly. He’d told his parents the truth—just not all of it.” Ben doesn’t reveal the whole truth until there is no other option.

Hero is a fast-paced story that takes readers into the dogfighting arena. Readers will connect with both Ben and Hero as they try to save each other. The story doesn’t just focus on dogfighting. Instead, Ben also has conflict with a new boy at school and his friend Noah. The well-rounded story is full of danger and friendship. Even though Ben’s actions do not always make sense, readers will fall in love with Hero.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Ben is distracted, Jack throws a baseball at him. Ben tries to duck, but he isn’t fast enough. “The ball nailed him on his right collarbone, hard. The pain shot through his body. Ben doubled over and took short, sharp breaths, hoping he didn’t pass out right there on the field.”
  • Ben and Noah sneak into a barn that men use for dogfighting. Ben can hear “snarling. Growling. Pained yelping and crying. He smelled the sharp tang of blood in the air.” As Ben looks around the barn, he sees caged dogs. The dog’s faces “were scared and bloody. Their bodies bore the marks of man injuries. Even worse than their wounds, though, were their eyes. They gazed at Ben with a combination of desperation and fear.”
  • As Ben looks for Scout, he can hear “dogs tearing at each other. . . Ben heard one of the dogs wailing and whimpering. It sounded like the animal was hurt—badly.”
  • The leader of the dogfighting ring sees Ben in the barn and pulls a knife on him. Hero sees Ben and he “soared at top speed, front paws extended, teeth bared. . . He [Mitch] let out a confused grunt as Hero landed on him. Ben watched Mitch’s eyes grow big as his body fell forward, Hero on his back with his teeth clamped down on the back of Mitch’s neck. . . Mitch fell facedown onto the concrete floor, his head hitting the ground with a sickening thump. . . Mitch was out cold.”
  • After Ben gets away from Mitch, two “bloodthirsty demons” chase him. Hero comes to the rescue. “One of the dogs was on the ground bleeding. The other was crouched down low, circling his opponent: Hero.” Ben runs away.
  • When Mitch again corners Ben, Hero’s “eyes burned with hatred, and when he opened his mouth to snarl at the men, Ben saw blood on his teeth from the other dogs. . . Hero launched himself into the air, straight at Mitch. . . Mitch wailed in pain as his head smacked the concrete again.” Ben runs away.
  • Again, Mitch comes after Ben. “Hero snarled and snapped his head sideways, latching on to Mitch’s calf with his powerful jaw. Mitch cried out in pain, but he couldn’t get away.” Hero bites Mitch on the leg. A man tackles Hero. Ben grabs a rusty shovel and “hefted it with both hands and ran toward Hero and the man who still lay on top of him. . . Ben swung the shovel high in the air and brought it down fast onto his head. With a groan, the man passed out cold and fell to the side, off Hero.” Hero is injured and has to be taken to the vet. The barn scene is described over eight pages.
  • Hero leads Ben and his father to Mitch, the leader of the dogfighting ring. Hero runs into Mitch’s house and is attacked by two dogs. Ben watches as “Hero and the two dogs spun in circles, snapping their jaws and pouncing on each other. It was a cloud of fur and spit.”
  • When Ben’s father sees Mitch, he pulls a gun on him. As the two men talk, Scout “launched himself at Mitch. The puppy jumped onto Mitch’s wounded leg, closing his small but sharp teeth on his calf.” The police arrest Mitch. The scene is described over six pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Heck is used three times. For example, Ben tells his dog, “You scared the heck out of me.”
  • When Ben asks Noah for help, Noah replies, “Of course I’ll help you, stupid.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Enter the Core

Max Tilt thinks his luck is finally changing thanks to his great-great-great-grandfather Jules Verne’s unfinished, unpublished manuscript, The Lost Treasures. Using the clues Verne left behind, Max and his cousin Alex were able to bottle the magical healing elements needed to cure his mother’s illness just in the nick of time.

But then Max and Alex discover that the vials were stolen by their former friend, Bitsy. She has plans to use them to save the world, but her plans might be much more deadly than they seem. And so now it’s up to Max and Alex to stop her before it’s too late.

Working against the odds, the two kids glean clues from one of Verne’s best-loved books, Journey to the Center of the Earth. In it, they discover a map to their most dangerous destination yet—the very core of the world. So, now the two cousins are off on their most unlikely, most important quest yet—literally to save the world!

Max Tilt: Enter the Core has everything that adventure seekers could want in a book: non-stop action, interesting clues to solve, and a wonderful cast of diverse characters. Readers will be taken on a heart-stopping hike into the center of the earth where prehistoric creatures survive. As Max and his friends travel down the dark corridors and enter creepy caves, they use their combined knowledge (and a couple of ancient talismans) to safely solve the clues that Jules Verne left behind.

Even though the same villain from the previous books appears, the villain creates suspense and conflict without taking center stage. Instead, the focus remains on the descendants of Jules Vernes and his friend Arne Saknusseumm. The story highlights the importance of doing what is best for humanity, instead of what’s best for yourself.

Because many of the characters appear in all three books in the series, readers will want to read the previous books first. Unlike the previous books, Max Tilt: Enter the Core leaves the topics of death and illness out and focuses on the adventure, as Max and his friends follow Jules Verne’s footsteps as described in Journey to the Center of the Earth. In addition to the adventure, readers will enjoy the interplay between Max and his cousin, Alex.

Max Tilt: Enter the Core has the perfect blend of action, suspense, and interesting characters. Readers will want to read to the very last page. The heart-warming conclusion will leave readers with a smile. Sci-fi and action-seeking readers should definitely pick up the Max Tilt Series.

Sexual Content

  • Someone saw Alex “kiss the lucky fellow.”

Violence

  • When the bus driver tried to help Bitsy with her backpack, she bit him. “For a big walrus of a man, the driver had an oddly dainty scream. He yanked his arm away, Bitsy’s mouth was left with the taste of stale coffee, laundry detergent and old polyester.”
  • Max gets upset and Brandon “grabbed him by the shoulders, but Max turned and kicked him.” Max began taking deep breaths to calm himself down.
  • While in a cave, a “white object dropped to the ground. A bone. Then a grinning white face burst through. As Alex let out a piercing shriek, Max dove to the ground. He covered his head as a cascade of bones and skulls rained on top of him.”
  • While in a cave, Max falls and slips down a passage and a creature grabs him. Max tried to run, but the thing “held Max tight—with arms, legs, or tendrils, he couldn’t tell. But it was smothering him, smushing his face into its fur, lifting his feet off the ground.” Max hits the creature with his flashlight. “As Max tried to wriggle free, he heard a scream. Something sharp stuck his left ankle. . . The beast let out a guttural moan. It let go of Max and he fell to the ground.”
  • A creature grabbed Max with its talons. “Max felt himself rise, in ridiculous pain. He let out a scream that seemed to come up from below his toenails.” The creature drops Max.
  • While in a cave, Brandon falls off a cliff. Later, Max’s group finds Brandon’s body and Brandon cannot be revived. A creature comes towards the body and Alex attacks the creature. “From the front of the creature’s torso, hidden under the thick mass of hair, an orange tentacle whipped forward. It wrapped around Alex’s arm and tossed her to the side like driftwood. She screamed in surprise, her trowel flying away and into the water.” Later, someone else “blindsided the creature from the other side. With a roar like a creaky door, the hairy thing fell back.”
  • When a crowd of creatures comes towards Max and his group, Brandon “went into a pitching stance, kicked, and hurled the rock into the advancing crowd.” There is a lot of screaming and confusion. Something touches Max and “Max yelled in shock, twisting his body always, instinctively spinning and kicking. His right foot landed square in the face of a furry, monkey-like beast with wings. It fell to the ground, whimpering, and immediately ran away.” Then, Max squirts raspberry Gatorade towards a creature’s eyes causing it to run away. The scene is described over three pages.
  • Prehistoric birds appear and try to snatch up Max and his friends. Before the birds can hurt anyone, “Three of the hairy creatures—just like the one who had poured the liquid over Brandon—were picking the birds out of the sky with their tentacles.” The birds fly away.
  • The villain throws “a small black pellet that missed Max by inches, hitting the wall. . .it exploded into fragments and black dust.” A man is killed, but his death is not described.
  • The villain pulled a gun from his pocket and threatened Max’s group. The villain throws pellets at Max’s group, and “it landed about four feet in front of [the door] and exploded.” No one is injured.
  • Max’s group sets off an explosive that collapses a cave. It is implied that the villain and his daughter die in the explosion.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • While hiking, Max and his group find a “plastic foil wrapper” of Xantax.

Language

  • Heck is used four times. Several times someone asks, “What the heck is that?”
  • When prehistorical birds appear, someone says, “Dear Lord.”

Supernatural

  • Max is given “one of the most powerful talismans of the ancients. . . While wearing this talisman, you will always face the true path.”
  • A creature puts “a clear liquid” on Brandon’s forehead and chest. “Brandon’s skin let out a hiss, sending up wisps of green smoke. . . Where the hissing liquid had touched his body, his pale greenish skin was darkening. From a series of thin lines along his forehead and torso, it spread like the branching of nerves, setting off blotches of deep color that grew and joined until he no longer had the same tinge as the lake.” Brandon’s body repairs itself and he comes back to life.
  • Two men drink a serum that makes them immortal. “The serum slowed the body’s aging mechanism—it destroyed the marker that signals the end of life. In curing disease, the curious side effect was eternal life.”

Spiritual Content

  • The plane that Max was on crashed in freezing water. “Saying a prayer, [Max] jumped out the door.”
  • Someone tells Max and his group that they should “Go back to your family and pray for the best.”

 

 

Storm Blown

A little rain and wind doesn’t worry Alejo—they’re just part of life at the beach. As his padrino says, as long as there are birds in the waves, it’s safe. When people start evacuating though, Alejo realizes things might be worse than he thought. And they are. A hurricane is headed straight for Puerto Rico. Worried that his padrino needs help, Alejo braves the storm in order to search for him.

Emily’s brother, Elliot, has been really sick. He can’t go outside their New Orleans home, so Emily decides to have an adventure for him. Emily wades out to a tiny island. For once, Emily wants her mother to worry about her. While hiding from her home, she befriends an injured goose and a shy turtle. Emily doesn’t know that a storm is racing her way.

As the hurricane rages across Puerto Rico and heads towards the United States, both kids will face life-threatening danger. Soon Alejo and Emily will be in the storm’s deadly path, but nothing has prepared the kids for Megastorm Valerie. Who will survive nature’s fury?

Like a wind-blown leaf in a hurricane, Storm Blown jumps from many different settings and points of view, which quickly becomes confusing. Although Alejo and Emily are the two main characters, the story also gives a glimpse of Emily’s father, the national climatic research center workers, as well as the animals trapped in the hurricane. Since the story includes so many points of view, Alejo and Emily are underdeveloped, which makes it hard for the reader to connect to them.

Storm Blown shows the devastation a hurricane can cause which leads to many daring episodes. However, some of the events are hard to believe. For example, Alejo, who does not know how to drive, is able to steal a van, drive through torrential rains, and arrive safely home. Alejo is so worried about his padrino that he braves the weather only to find an empty house. Although Alejo’s actions are brave, the reader will wonder why he and his padrino did not discuss a disaster plan. Instead, Alejo’s grandfather tapes a note to the kitchen table. In a world where natural disasters happen often, readers will question some of the kids’ daring deeds and actions.

Readers interested in extreme weather or survival stories will find Storm Blown difficult to read because of the many points of view and the challenging vocabulary. The story also ends abruptly and leaves the reader with too many unanswered questions. Instead of choosing Strom Blown, readers should try the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis, The Raft by S.A. Bodeen, or Trapped by Michael Northrop.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Nature’s violence is shown throughout the book. A tree falls, hitting Joy. Emily goes to help her. “Swallowing a sudden nausea, Emily propped herself against the closest limb and pulled Joy to her feet. Joy swayed in the wind, blinking as the rain mixed with the blood in her matted hair. It ran down her arms in rivulets, and Emily tried not to gag as Joy hooked her elbow around her narrow shoulders for support.”
  • The helicopter pilot is injured when he was “pinned to the ground beneath a heavy limb. His face was contorted into a grimace, but he wasn’t moving. Not even as the dark water lapped against the side of his head, threatening to suck him deeper into the mud beneath their feet.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Several of the characters are given pain medication after an injury. Elliot is given pain pills, but he doesn’t like how “the pain pills made it so he couldn’t stay up for more than a few hours.”
  • When Elliot’s mother brings him pain pills, he saves them for later. After he got dressed, Elliot slipped “his pain pills into his pocket.”
  • While waiting for a hurricane, the hotel gives the guest drinks. “The hotel bar made so many Dark ‘n’ Stormies that they ran out of rum halfway through Alejo’s rounds, switching to something they were calling a Frozen Valerie.

Language

  • “Oh my god” is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Several times in the story, the characters pray for something. For example, Emily’s father “prayed that Sarah had fixed things up with their daughter.” When Emily’s father finally made it home, “Silas prayed for a miracle.”

 

 

Snowhook

Fourteen-year-old Hannah isn’t thrilled about spending time in her family’s remote Alaskan cabin. She’d rather hang out with her friends or spend time at the mall. Instead, she’s learning survival skills that she doesn’t think she’ll ever need. Then, a massive ice storm traps her family, and Hannah’s mom is desperately low on insulin. With no power and no way to contact the outside world, Hannah decides to take matters into her own hands. Hannah sneaks away with the family’s four dogs and an old dogsled.

Hannah only plans to go as far as the nearest neighbor, who should have a working phone. But unexpected events lead her into the wilderness with a boy who disagrees with her at every turn. As the two teens fight worsening weather, Hannah must use all her skills to get help for her family before they all freeze to death in the wilderness.

Surviving the wilderness in the middle of a blizzard should lead to exciting events; however, Snowhook will only leave the reader frustrated. Hannah wants to be a hero, but instead, she comes off as an ungrateful, whiny brat who spends most of her time complaining. When her neighbor Peter joins her, the two spend almost all of their time yelling at each other. Even though the two are able to survive some dangerous situations, luck plays a bigger role in their survival than skill.

In addition to the two unlikable characters, there are many unanswered questions. For instance, Hannah and Peter must run from Peter’s aunt who has PTSD from being in the army; however, after they escape the aunt’s story is never told. In addition, Peter and Hannah have a strange argument about immigrants, Peter hints that he hates his father, and he is also clearly afraid of dogs. But in the end, none of these issues are discussed or resolved. Instead, once the two get to town, the story abruptly ends with no real closure.

Snowhook’s slow pace, difficult vocabulary, and argumentative characters make the story as difficult as walking through a snowdrift. Readers interested in cold weather survival stories should leave Snowhook on the shelf, and choose instead Not if I Save You First by Ally Carter or Trapped by Michael Northrop.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Hannah pounds on a neighbor’s door, the neighbor hits her in the chest with the butt of a rifle. “Hannah turned to see who had finally opened the door and immediately felt a hot, stinging sensation in her chest. Then she was lying on her back in the snow, unable to breathe.” Later Hannah learns that the woman was suffering from PTSD and often believed she was back in Afghanistan. The woman’s nephew, Peter, helps Hannah escape.
  • When Hannah and Peter leave the house, the woman shoots at them.
  • When Peter calls Hannah’s sister weird, “Hannah launched herself at him. His bent-over head and rounded shoulders received the brunt of her shove, and he landed with a whomp in the soft snow on the trailside.”
  • Hannah’s sled dogs fight. “Rudy was on top of Bogey for a long time, growling and screaming, tearing at Bogey’s face and ears, trying to roll over him. Bogey crouched, digging his paws into the ground and using his powerful legs to keep him upright, protecting his throat and trying to bite at whatever part of Rudy came near him. . . In a split second, Bogey was up. His whole mouth dripped blood and phlegm and spit, and his ears were flat against his head, with the crest of his skull puffed up twice its normal size.” The fight was described over three pages and the dogs are not seriously injured.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Hannah’s mom has diabetes and has to give herself an insulin injection.
  • When Peter is injured, Hannah gives him Tylenol for the pain.

Language

  • Profanity is used occasionally and includes asshole, bullshit, holy crap, crap, goddamn, damn, hell, jackass, shit.
  • Throughout the story, Hannah and Peter argue and call each other names including idiot, jerk, asshole, pansy-ass, shithead, chicken, and jackass.
  • One of the characters uses “Jesus” as an exclamation. For example, “By the Jesus, it’s cold.”
  • Peters says his dad is “chickenshit.”
  • Peter and Hannah argue and Peter calls Hannah an “idiot.” In return, Hannah calls Peter a “jackass.” In one fight Peter tells Hannah, “You’re just a snotty little city girl. Go to hell.”
  • When Hannah and Peter try to find safety, Peter yells, “If you hadn’t brought those goddamn dogs, if you hadn’t yelled and banged on the door, then everything would have been okay!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Raft

Robie feels lucky living on the small island of Midway which sits in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. But sometimes being the only kid on the island makes her feel like she’s going crazy. To keep Robie sane, she goes to visit her aunt in Hawaii. After her aunt suddenly has to leave the island for work, Robie decides to catch a cargo flight home. When the plane hits a nasty storm, Robie thinks everything will be alright. Robie is wrong.

Suddenly, Robie is submerged in water. She’s fighting for her life. Then Max, the only other survivor, pulls her onto a raft, and that’s when the real terror begins. They have no water. Their only food is a bag of skittles. There are sharks. They have no idea if help is on the way. How long can they survive in the middle of the ocean?

The Raft is a sensational survival story that has several twists that will surprise readers. The story is told from Robie’s point of view, which allows her fears to jump to the surface. When Robie is on the raft, she finds a “Survival at Sea” card that adds irony to the story, as well as helps Robie stay alive. Robie clearly loves nature but also fears nature’s violence. Through Robie’s experiences, the story highlights the dangers humans pose to wildlife by throwing trash into the sea; this aspect of the story will encourage readers to make small changes that can dramatically help ocean creatures survive.

The story doesn’t only focus on survival at sea. Max is dealing with overcoming a tragedy. As his story unfolds, Max retells his story of love and loss. Readers will be pulled into his story and will cry at his loss. Max’s story adds suspense and a unique aspect to the story.

The story has short chapters, and some of the paragraphs are only one sentence; this makes the story easy to read as well as increases the story’s suspense. Robie makes several references to The Hunger Games which adds an interesting element to the story. The Raft is a fast-paced story that pulls the reader in from the very first chapter. Fans of survival stories will absolutely enjoy The Raft. For those who want to dip their toes into other ocean survival stories, add Adrift by Paul Griffin and Surrounded by Sharks by Michael Northrop to your reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While walking home, a man thinks Robie is someone he knows. The man attacks Robie. Unexpectedly, “a hand grabbed a chunk of my cornrows and yanked. My food went flying as I whipped around. . . He grabbed my cornrows tighter, forcing my head down so I could only look at the ground . . .” Some men begin yelling at the man, and he lets Robie go.
  • A shark attacks a seal, which is able to escape to the beach. To stop the seal’s suffering, Robie grabbed a board, and “just as I was ready to bring the board down, her head fell my way, both of her eyes looking up at mine. There was no surprised in her gaze. Like she expected me to be there. To help her. . . Then I cried out as I brought the board down as hard as I could.”
  • Max’s journal details how his girlfriend, Brandy, died in a car crash. His truck rolled over, and Max found her body. “Brandy lay where she’d been thrown through the windshield as soon as we’d rolled, just off the road. . . Oh God. Her neck was at an impossible angle, and I held her hand to my chest.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Crap and holy crap are used occasionally.
  • Frickin’ is used five times. For example, when Robie was on an airplane, she “tried not to think about the dark and the water underneath us. Nothing by dark and all that frickin’ water.”
  • Hell is used several times. When a man sees Robie on a deserted island, he asks, “What the hell is she doing out here?”
  • Oh my God and Oh God are used as exclamations six times.
  • Pissed is used four times. Robie is upset when she drops a partial bag of Skittles, she “blubbered, as part of me cursed the carelessness that had just lost us all the food we had, and another part was just pissed that I hadn’t eaten them all when I had the chance.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Robie is on a plane, an engine stops. She prayed, “God, please please let everything be okay. Please don’t let us crash and please just let me get to Midway. And please let them (the pilots) be calm when I look up there.”
  • The plane crashes, and Robie is pushed out into the ocean. When she is underwater, she prays, “God, please kill me already. This is more than I can take.” As she is still submerged, she prays, “God, please, let me reach the light. I want to live.”
  • Robie found a “Survival at Sea” card in the raft. As she was reading it, the card explained how to escape a fire caused by a plane’s oil slick. Robie thought, “Thank God for small favors. My plane crashed, but at least there wasn’t a fiery oil slick to deal with.”
  • When Robie hears a plane’s engine, Robie “said a silent prayer” hoping that it would find her.
  • When Robie finds a tube of Carmex, she “cradled it to my chest for a moment, thanking Max, thanking God, thanking whoever put that ditty bag on the beach.”
  • When Robie is worried that she is going to die, she says a prayer. Then she thinks, “When I was little, I did say my prayers every night. But when it was just me, and I was older, without Mom and Dad putting me to bed, I stopped. Midway didn’t even have a church. We did have a white cross though, on an edge of the island, overlooking the lagoon. . . Every Easter, the residents of Midway did gather at the cross at sunrise. Sometimes someone read from the Bible or said a few words. Usually we sang a hymn. This year I had slept in.. . I could bargain with God. Isn’t that what people did in these situations?” Robie decides she is too tired to plead her case, and God could make his own decision on what happens to her.
  • When Robie is rescued and calls her mom, her mom says, “thank God.”

Edge of Flight

The boxes are packed. Tuition has been paid. But before Vanisha leaves, she wants to go rock climbing with her friends one last time. So far, she has been unable to complete the Edge of Flight, the toughest rock climbing route Vanisha has ever faced. This time, she’s determined to make it up the cliff.

When Vanisha and her friends, Rusty and Jeb, set up their campsite, they discover an illegal marijuana grow. When Jeb decides to explore the marijuana field, a group of bikers discovers him. When Jeb is shot, he needs immediate help. But the bikers are looking for the kids. In order to save her friend, Vanisha must conquer the Edge of Flight, hike into town, and avoid unexpected dangers. Can Vanisha overcome her fear to save her friend?

Edge of Flight is not only about rock climbing, but also about teens making decisions about their future. Vanisha plans to attend college in the fall; however, she is unsure of what she wants to do. Through her experiences, she learns, “You’ve got to take one road or the other. You’ve got to decide. And no one can decide for you. It’s your decision. Because it’s your road. You’re the one who has to walk it. Not your mom. Not anyone else.” The story has a positive message about discussing your dreams with your parents, but also the importance of making decisions that are best for you.

Vanisha’s college conflict will resonate with many high school students. The easy-to-read language, straightforward plot, and short length will appeal to reluctant readers. However, those not familiar with rock climbing may not understand all of the terminology without the aid of the glossary, which is at the back of the book. Although the story should be suspenseful, the character development is lacking, which makes it difficult to connect with Vanisha and her friends. Confident readers should skip Edge of Flight and instead read Jaimet’s other book, Endangered: A Death on a Deadline Mystery, which is an excellent mystery.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Jeb goes to explore an illegal marijuana grow and someone shoots at him. “Another shot rings out. Jeb stumbles and crumbles to the ground.”
  • A group of men is at a campsite drinking beer, and they smash Jeb’s truck with a tire iron.
  • A man grabs Vanisha. “He laughs, his breath hot in my ear, and drags me towards the campsite.” Vanisha’s friend tries to help. A short fight ensues, and someone pulls a hunting rifle on the group. No one is injured.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Vanisha and her friends come across an illegal marijuana grow. The experience makes Vanisha wonder if she can trust her friend. She wonders, “What if he’s got a stash of weed in his glove compartment, or hidden under a seat? What if he’s got a couple of cans of beer hidden among all of the junk in the back of his trunk?”
  • A woman tries to help Vanisha. In order to get around the men, she tells Vanisha, “Honey, if I know them boys, they’re already drunk and stoned already. They’ll pass out eventually. I’m just gonna help them along with a little home brew and Southern charm.”

Language

  • A boy says “‘scuse my dumb ass for livin.’”
  • “Sweet Lord Jesus” is used as an exclamation once.
  • A boy calls his friend a moron.
  • A man is “pissing against” a truck.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

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