[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/10508116]
If Sheba dreamt about you, you were in for it.Trusting in Sheba's dreams and intuition, Alfred postpones his trip to the Pacific and decides to sail upriver to Montreal. That's where his grandfather thinks his father ran to when he left Alfred, and that's where Alfred is hoping he can still find him. Sheba is worried that without this trip, Alfred will be left with unfinished business weighing him down for the rest of his life. If that's true, why does Alfred feel more pulled down by dread the closer he gets to his destination?
"There was a big storm," she began.
I sat up and listened closely. A big storm was no big deal; I had seen lots of those.
"And there was a sea monster."
Not so good. "What did it look like?"
"I couldn't see it; I just knew it was there. And your submarine was sinking."
Shoot! "Was the monster pulling it down?"
"Yes, I think so. I'm not sure. It's just that..."
"What? What is it?"
"I think maybe the saw monster was your father."
The Submarine Outlaw is growing up, both the character and the series. Though there is still plenty of information about the working of the sub and, in this installment, the workings of the St. Lawrence River, River Odyssey reads a lot less like narrative non-fiction than the previous books in the series. I think that's because Alfred actually does a lot of growing in this book and deals with a lot of (gasp!) feelings. And he finds out that while he may want to explain everything away logically (see his rationale for the weird happenings over what my be Atlantis in the second book) some things, especially the actions of people and the motives behind them, will always remain inexplicable.
Alfred's mother died giving birth to him, and his father left shortly thereafter. All Alfred knows about either is what he's been told by his grandparents. Most recently, when asked the question, "What was he like?", this has consisted of a tight-lipped response from his grandfather: "He's not like you" (27). For the duration of his trip, Alfred is let trying to figure out what that means. He's not adventurous? Not at home on the water? Not good with animals or without company? As Alfred sails up-river and meets a variety of people along the way (as he is wont to do), he settles on another possibility. What if his father is not good?
Still an adventure story, still a great story about how things work, River Odyssey has something else too that was missing from the other Submarine Outlaw books: emotional (rather than mechanical) conflict and growth. Though Alfred still meets, gets to know, and leaves people on his trip, though he still gets in and out of scrapes along the way (gets a whole lot closer to getting caught than we've ever seen before - it's a lot harder to flit off into international waters when you're in a river), gone is the episodic quality of the first two books. I doubt fans of the series will be missing anything that they loved in the first books and will love seeing a glimpse into the rest of Alfred's life. And I think River Odyssey may have more to offer new readers as well. This doesn't feel like fiction for young readers of non-fiction anymore. The story and the information about ships, subs, and bodies of water are much more balanced, and this book is (finally) about a boy who happens to travel the world by sub rather than about a boy and how built, maintains, and travels by submarine.
River Odyssey came out last month and is now available for purchase!
Book 1: Submarine Outlaw
Book 2: Journey to Atlantis
Book source: Review copy provided by the publisher