Lost in the River of Grass

Gr 5—8—The Florida Everglades provides the setting for two barely acquainted teens to embark on a survival adventure. During a weekend field trip to an environmental center, Sarah, 13, meets Andy, 15, the camp manager's son. As a scholarship student new to Glades Academy, Sarah feels excluded by the "Barbies," her snooty designer-clad classmates. Feigning illness, she skips a scheduled outing and joins Andy for a daytrip into the wilderness. Packing few supplies, she hopes to shoot some photos with her father's treasured Leica camera and be back before her teacher realizes she is absent. Alligator and snake sightings portend danger lurking in the outwardly docile landscape, and Darwinian foreshadowing intensifies as Sarah takes the helm of the sputtering airboat, accidentally running over some ducklings. As the teens explore a remote island, their airboat sinks beyond saving. Options for rescue are few, so they slosh miles through knee-deep swamp, experiencing overexposure to sun, mosquito bites, and encounters with wildlife. Factual details about local flora and fauna make this more than just a survival story, creating an intimate portrait of the Everglades. The two help each other to overcome some specific fears, but heretofore unrevealed details about Sarah's African-American heritage and Andy's Confederate flag-toting father are unnecessary to the satisfying ending.—Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY
Sarah, a scholarship student who feels like an outcast at her new private school, distances herself from her classmates during a field trip to the Everglades, with near-disastrous results. Rorby suspensefully captures the otherworldly atmosphere of this singular setting; somewhat less successful is the forced-seeming social commentary. Nevertheless, it's an exciting read.
Readers will pull for Sarah, thirteen, and Andy, fifteen, as they face poisonous snakes, gators, fire ants, and hunger and thirst while they try to make their way out of a remote part of the Everglades on foot. Sarah insists on adopting a duckling, Teapot, to Andy’s dismay—it will only slow them down—but Teapot is a good mascot, and caring for him gives them a psychological boost through their ordeal. Details about the Everglades and the plants and animals that inhabit it emerge contextually in the suspenseful narrative, giving the story its distinct sense of place and adding depth to the adventure: “Things in our path slither away in startling bursts of speed. If what flees is a gator, it leaves a trail of tiny bubbles on the surface. . . . Water snakes, once they sense the vibration of our approach, swim along the surface, and disappear into the saw grass.” Sarah and Andy’s relationship is believable—their romance alternates between being prickly and being affable; they snipe at each other, but they obviously care for one another.

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