Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Exciting Sailing Adventure for Middle Grade Readers

Unto the Breach by Sidney Gale
(A Review)
Don't let the word "lake" fool you.  The Great Lakes are immense and powerful!
This is me at Lake Michigan. The book takes place on Lake Ontario, but I wanted to
give the readers some perspective and a visual of one of these beautiful lakes.

What an exciting adventure for middle grade readers!  This book is fast-paced and interesting, even without the background knowledge of boats and sailing. 

Two best friends, thirteen-year-old Anthony and Eric, decide that they don’t want to go on the class field trip – mainly because Anthony is unathletic and has very little interest in the outdoors.  Having been sailing on Eric’s family’s boat in the past, he considers it to be an easy, relaxing alternative to the rigors involved in the school trip.  Together, they approach their favorite teacher to be a chaperone and then, approach their parents and principal for approval.  Although Anthony’s parents have some reservations, they finally give their consent once another experienced sailor – Eric’s rival, Rob – joins the crew. 

The teacher, Mr. Benson, knows next to nothing about sailing and will be relying solely on Eric and Rob’s expertise.  With the animosity between Eric and Rob (mostly stemming from Eric’s jealousy) and a smart, but somewhat lazy Anthony on board, the trip already has the makings of a disaster.  But add to this some faulty equipment and an unexpected gale storm and it makes for page-turning thrills.

The action of the book is set on Lake Ontario.  Having grown up in Michigan, I am very familiar with the size and power of the Great Lakes.  Most people, I have found, who haven’t been to one of these lakes has a hard time understanding the enormity of them and the unpredictability of the weather over them.  When I show pictures to people from out of state, they think they are looking at the ocean.  And that’s what these lakes seem to be and sometimes how they behave – like the sea.  So in understanding this book, it is necessary to understand the vastness of this lake.  You cannot see the other side.  Waves can reach incredible heights.  Storms can crop up from out of nowhere.  And yes, unfortunately, ships do go down. 

Each of the characters has a unique personality, which changes throughout the book as they are faced with life-or-death situations and decisions.  It’s always fascinating to see who people become in the face of adversity.  Anthony, often underestimated by Eric, at first seems whiny and lazy, but incredibly intelligent as he is obsessed with watching medical shows (this will come in handy later on in the story).  He becomes someone who is confident and decisive in the midst of others’ panic. 

While Eric loves Anthony as his best friend, he assumes the role of the decision-maker and leader.  He is self-assured and almost arrogant.  His anger towards Rob is actually envy and secret feelings of inadequacy as Rob is rich and a talented sailor.  Rob remains fairly constant throughout the book, but it is clear that each one of these boys grows up considerably by the end and the experience will connect them for life.

The author provided a diagram at the beginning of the book of the sailboat (a Shark) with important parts of the boat labeled.  While I definitely found it helpful, I could have used even more labeling.  The glossary at the back of the book was a nice addition, but it takes a very dedicated reader to go searching for words and in my experience, most middle schoolers are unlikely to use them unless it’s for a school assignment or perhaps if they are really interested in sailing.  The diagram is definitely easier to understand, it is just a bit too limited. 

However, without help from the diagram or the glossary, the book is still understandable and a fun, wild ride!  Once the boys start sailing, it is nonstop action.  I expected the boys to catch a break once in a while, but the hits kept on coming.  I couldn’t wait to get to the end. 

This is a survival story, but it’s also a coming-of-age story.  The characters get on the boat as boys, but they get off much older and wiser. 

I definitely recommend it for middle grade boys, but I think girls would enjoy it, too.  It’s a good read!

The author is actually a doctor, specializing in diabetes.  He has written numerous nonfiction books, but this is his first novel.  Check him out at:

A couple more pics of the Great Lakes (well, Lake Michigan, anyway!):
A beautiful day in Holland, Michigan!

My pup, Daphne, and I on Lake Michigan.

My husband and I in Saugatuck, Michigan.

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