The Boys in the Boat…young reader’s edition


Brown, Daniel James.   The Boys in the Boat: The True Story of an American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics.  New York: Viking, 2015.  978-1-101-47592-3.  240 p.  $17.99.  Grade 5+.

The Great Depression was a difficult time for millions of people, including young Joe Rantz, who was forced out of his home because his family couldn’t care for him.  Although Joe went back to his family, he was later sent away by his new stepmother who didn’t want any reminders of her husband’s previous family.  In order to survive, Joe worked hard and learned to be self-reliant.  He was bright and realized that college would enable him to achieve the financial independence he needed.  He was accepted by the University of Washington in Seattle and tried out for the rowing team in order to stay at the university.  Many of Joe’s teammates on the rowing team were in a similar position; they didn’t come from wealthy families and were used to hard physical labor.  The boys on the boat were strong, but they were also insecure and didn’t know how to work together as a team.  As they began to connect and rely on each other, they started to win against more skilled teams from California and the East Coast.  Finally, they found the perfect synchrony that only exists in the best rowing teams, and they were on the path to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

797.12; Memoir; Rowing          Susan Fox, Washington JSHS

Although this book is supposed to be about the entire University of Washington rowing team that went to the Berlin Olympics, it is arguably Joe Rantz’s story.  His life circumstances were almost unimaginably tragic, but he constantly picked himself up and worked to improve his situation.  This aspect of the story alone makes The Boys in the Boat a worthy read for students.  Although I  didn’t find the coach’s speeches and the race descriptions to be that interesting, the human aspects of the story are engaging.  The book’s treatment of Nazi Germany during the 1936 Olympics is somewhat controversial; the author portrays Germany as the rowers saw it, a friendly and scenic European country.  They seemed to have little awareness of Hitler’s treatment of the Jews and the coming storm.  On a final note, this book is very strong in the amount of supporting documentation it offers; there are many photographs, a timeline, a diagram/ description of the “art of rowing”, and a notes/ index section that will be included in the final version of the book.  The Boys in the Boat will be a wonderful addition to any middle grade library.


Out of Darkness


Perez, Ashley Hope. Out of Darkness. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Lab, 2015. 9781467742023. 408p. $18.99. Grades 8 to 12.

“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”

Naomi learns this rule quickly when she moves to East Texas in 1937 with her younger siblings to live with her step-father. With the recent death of her mother, Naomi struggles to find her place in her new family. She is Hispanic, but her stepfather and siblings are white. In a very segregated community, Naomi faces discrimination at every turn, in school, at the store, and even at church. She finds a friend, and eventually love, in Wash, a black teen who understands discrimination and racism all too well. Their secret relationship is found out in the explosive conclusion of the story.

The author based this book on the true events that happened at the New London School in 1937, in which almost 300 students died in a natural gas explosion. Although I found this book to be poignant and beautiful, it was also very difficult to read. There were points in the story that I had to skim past because they were so dark and ugly. Perez takes on difficult issues such as incest and rape, lynch mobs, miscarriage, and brutal racism. She does it in a way that makes the story very real and very emotional to read. I recommend this book for advanced readers, but with caution. This is a tough book to read and is was very emotional to the last page.

Historical Fiction     Corey Hall, Elizabethtown Area MS/HS