Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Submarine Outlaw - for Tween Tuesday

Tween Tuesday was started over at Green Bean Teen Queen as away to highlight awesome books for the 9-12 yr olds or Tweens. Any book highlighted on Tween Tuesday also counts for the In the Middle Reading Challenge! This week's book is:

Roy, Philip. Submarine Outlaw. Vancouver: Ronsdale Press, 2008. Print.
[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/5509071]

Alfred lives with his grandparents in Dark Cove, a small town in Newfoundland. All the men of Dark Cove are fishermen, and it looks as though this will be Alfred's destiny as well. But to be a fisherman, looking out at the sea from the relative safeness of a fishing boat, never straying far from the coastline and certainly never going into the water (most of the fishermen cannot swim even though they spend most of their lives on the water), would kill Alfred. He wants to be an explorer and he wants to explore the depths of the sea. This is where Ziegfried comes in. This intimidatingly large and gruff owner of a junkyard happens to be a mechanical genius. He agrees to help Alfred build a submarine for one, allowing Alfred to escape his grandfather's fishy wishes for him pursue fishy dreams of his own.

Okay, guys, I'll admit it. I was worried about this one. Realistic fiction about a kid who, with the help of a junkyard maven, turns an oil tank into a working submarine? I'm all for fantasy, but huge suspensions of disbelief in a story that is supposed to be realistic, of the kind I thought I was going to have to make right there in the first chapter, are not my forte. But then Ziegfried started, matter of factly, building a submarine out of an oil tank. There are almost 80 pages of the building and testing of this submarine, a lot for a 250 page book. It makes for a slow start to the story, but not a slow start for the book. Ziegfried explains everything he's doing as he goes along, ostensibly so that Alfred will be able to handle minor repairs on his own at sea, but really so that we readers will not have to make that huge jump on our own. It's so interesting to read about all the ways he's making sure things float and sink when you want them too, and it is, to my limited mechanical knowledge, pretty realistic.

Once the submarine is built, Alfred is off! Along the way he picks up a seagull and a dog, meets a lady who lives alone on an island save her own menagerie of furry and feathered companions, rescues a family at sea, finds some treasure, and gets chased by the coastguard, navy, and excited locals. He gets to have the adventure that being a fisherman would have denied him. Looking back, the whole thing is a bit episodic, but while reading, the story is not the least disjointed. The connecting theme is Alfred's realization that the actions of his 14 year old self in his little tiny submarine have consequences, good and bad. Over the course of the novel he learns how to weigh his choices before rushing into a decision, who to trust to help him, and that other people (and a bird and a dog) are counting on him. Basically, during his year at sea, he grows up.

Did I mention that Alfred is 14? The book opens shortly before his 13th birthday, there is a year of simultaneously going to school and building the submarine, and then a year at sea, coming home just before everything freezes. In the beginning, Alfred was a believable 12 year old, and it is clear that the intended audience for this book is also. By the end, he seems a bit older and wiser than 14 at times. I have no doubt, however, that the following books will keep the tweener feel, even as Alfred continues to age and mature.

Also, it's easy to forget that Alfred's still a teenager when he's not going to school. His grandfather was going to make him drop out of school to become a fisherman at 14 anyway, but I wish that there was an option for his life that allowed him to stay in school. Instead, when it is suggested that he return to school, the argument is made that "I was already a man, no longer a boy. What I was learning no school could teach" (219). Until that line, dropping out of school was kind of a side consequence of growing up in Dark Cove, not of being an explorer, and a consequence that was easily forgotten. I wish the author had let me forget it if the issue wasn't actually going to be resolved or changed. Still, this is a small complaint about a book that I really did like reading. The descriptions of how the submarine worked as well as the life at sea and along the coast of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia were incredibly interesting and often beautiful. This series will be a hit with readers interested in oceanography, treasure-hunting (but not pirates), and the general way things work. I can't wait to read about Alfred's next adventure, which will take him a bit farther from home and the relative safety of the coast.

If you need another reason to read this book, the paper it is printed on is made of 100% post-consumer waste! It doesn't really have anything to do with the story, clearly, but it's definitely a practice that should be applauded!

I'll be reading and reviewing the second book in this series, Journey to Atlantis, in the next couple of weeks. The third book in the series, River Odyssey will be available from the publisher's website in September and at amazon shortly thereafter!

Book source: Review copy from publisher


GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

Hmm..interesting! This might be a good fiction read for readers who typically pick up non-fiction! Thanks for posting!:)

Lawral the Librarian said...

Exactly. It's like non-fiction with a plot. :)