Friday, November 03, 2017

Guy Friday- Sink or Swim: A Novel of WWII

Watkins, Steve. Sink or Swim: A Novel of WWII
October 31st 2017 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

When Colton's brother Danny is injured by a U Boat while out fishing in the Outer Banks, Colton decides to take his brother's papers and go into the navy in his place. Their father is dead, and their mother can use the navy pay... even though Colton is only 12! When he does a good job teaching a number of the men how to tie nautical knots, he is offered a place on a patrol craft, scouting for U Boats. He is a hard worker, sends home all of his pay, and makes friends with Woody, a farm boy, as well as Straub, who watches out for him. He is assigned to help cargo ships get from New York City to Key West, and there are a few problems with U Boats. When things get quiet, it's because the German vessels have moved North, and the PC is assigned to help ships get to England. On one mission, Colton's boat is badly damaged. Men die, and a few are left to survive on a life boat. Colton is badly injured, so when he finally returns to the US, his mother is alerted and tells the navy his age. While this is a fictional work, an afterword says that it is based on the real life story of Calvin Graham.
Strengths: This had everything I could want in a WWII novel. Sympathetic protagonist, slightly different outlook (PC with the navy), good period details (including a brief appearance by Ernest Hemingway's sons), lots of military action, and a predictable but very sad death, so that readers don't glamorize war. I am always surprised at how much I sometimes enjoy a WWII book, and it is definitely a popular topic with many of my readers.
Weaknesses: Colton is almost too good to be true. He is a good seaman, sends home all of his pay except for a dollar here and there, and doesn't even get into trouble while on liberty. Great to see, but a little harder to believe when I see the impulse control of 13 year olds on a daily basis!
What I really think: Excellent addition to the list of WWII fiction, and probably Watkins' best work.

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