Skeleton Tree - Iain Lawrence

Less than 48 hours after twelve-year-old Chris casts off on a trip to sail down the Alaskan coast with his uncle, their boat sinks. The only survivors are Chris and a boy named Frank, who hates Chris immediately. Chris and Frank have no radio, no flares, no food. Suddenly, they've got to find a way to forage, fish and scavenge supplies from the shore. Chris likes the company of a curious friendly raven more than he likes the prickly Frank. But the boys have to get along if they want to survive.

Because as the days get colder, and the salmon migration ends, survival will take more than sheer force of will. There in the wilderness of Kodiak, they discover a bond they didn't expect, and through it, the compassion and teamwork that might truly be the path to rescue.

A modern day Hatchet. A contemporary survival tale. A man (boy?) vs nature story for the modern age. However you want to compare the story, Lawrence's narrative is a memorable one, consisting of adventure, tragedy, realism, and survival. This novel is going to appeal to a wide range of middle grade readers throughout North America, especially those who have some degree of experience with camping, hiking, mountain climbing, or any other combination of outdoor adventure elements.

Whether or not they like each other, Frank and Chris must work together to survive in the wilderness of Alaska after a tragic boating accident. Chris's friendship with his raven friend is much stronger than his friendship with Frank, but no matter the case, Frank's prickly nature makes their relationship difficult from day one. Of course, the reason for Frank even being along on the journey is nearly lost when Uncle Jack is lost at sea, so a further part of the narrative relates to Frank and Chris figuring out why they were thrust together in the same situation to begin with.

Overall, the book is strongly written, though a number of the major plot points and twists are relatively easy to forecast (perhaps less so for younger readers.) The setting is strongly constructed, and characterization is mostly strong (Frank is perhaps overly annoying to some degree, however). The very opening of the novel is perhaps the weakest part of the book, moving swiftly (too much so) into the action, without allowing readers to more fully understand Chris or his mother's motives for allowing him to go off on an oceanic adventure. 

Perhaps what shines the most, above and beyond the plot, is the dialogue. Frank and Chris's rapport truly steals the shore. The two boys have a wonderful back-and-forth dialectic relationship, though it does often go off the rails and turn into moments of sheer frustration and anxiety. But in the end, the relationship between the two is the most poignant feature of the overall text.

Check it out!!



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