Saturday, October 24, 2020

Distress Signal

Lambert, Mary E. Distress Signal
October 20th 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Lavender is really excited about her class science field trip to the desert of Chiricahua National Park in Arizona. This is a three day school tradition, and something which the students have been looking forward to for a long time. There was even a school fundraiser to get enough money for a telescope to use at night. Things start to go wrong from the very beginning. Lavender's best friend, Marisol, has been becoming more and distant, and is hanging around the popular but mean Rachelle. Marisol won't sit with Lavender on the bus, so she gets stuck next to John, who is hiding in his hoodie for most of the bus trip. When their teacher announces that the money for the telescope was stolen, the mood on the bus is dampened, but the students perk up when they finally get going on their trek. After a boring talk about the dangers of the desert from an annoying guide, the kids set out with their teachers. Lavender has a HAM radio with her, and is supposed to check in with her father using it, because she doesn't have a phone. While testing it, she hears that there is a flash flood warning for the area, which is odd, because the teachers are having them hike in a dry riverbed. She eventually warns the teachers, and they move the children to safety, but there's one problem. Lavender has decided to pay Marisol and Rachelle back by telling them that there is a game of "sardines" being started by the popular kids, so they have gone off on a break to hide. John has overheard this, and the four are stranded when a wall of water comes through. They climb to safety, but aren't sure where they should go. They pool their scant resources, but the interpersonal conflicts get in the way of effectively dealing with their problem. They end up hiking over a mountain, meeting a bear, eating cactus, trying to dig for water, and otherwise trying to survive while working out their different personal problems. How long will they be out there before they are rescued?
Strengths: The inclusion of HAM radio operating was interesting, and I would have been glad to know more. Details about surviving in the desert are good; this would be a good companion to Bowling's The Canyon's Edge. Friend drama is always a big draw for middle grade readers, and John's problems at home are timely. I really loved Lambert's Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes, and this cover will be an automatic draw.
Weaknesses: This had a few moments that didn't seem quite right. Adults would not leave students alone with fund raising money, and John's plan would not have worked on a school trip. Trust me, I count the kids very carefully! Also, the girls were all so nasty I was sort of rooting for the bear.
What I really think: Very similar in a lot of ways to Behren's Alone in the Woods. Perhaps we will have a mini trend of friend drama with survival!

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