State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

As I was reading this book, I remember thinking, “This story reminds me of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.” Then, I went to Goodreads to log the book as having been read, and there I discovered that several other people noticed the similarities to Conrad’s classic story. Perhaps Ms. Patchett intended to follow after Conrad, in a feminist, post-colonial setting along the Amazon rather than the Congo. At any rate, she did have a harder time taking her characters into the unknown. With our twenty-first century technology, we at least think we know everyone and everything and can communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

“I don’t know how to write a novel in the world of cellphones. I don’t know how to write a novel in the world of Google, in which all factual information is available to all characters. So I have to stand on my head to contrive a plot in which the characters lose their cellphone and are separated from technology.” Ann Patchett interviewed in The Washington Post, June 17, 2011.

So, Ms. Patchett’s protagonist, Dr. Marina Singh, turns out to be particularly absent-minded and tech-averse, unable to hang onto her cell phone or make it work for any length of time. Accept that plot/character device and go on.

Dr. Annick Swenson is working, in the heart of the Amazon jungle, on a fertility drug that will revolutionize the world, if it can be brought to market. The trouble is that Dr. Swenson can’t be bothered to communicate with the pharmaceutical company that is sponsoring her work and that hopes to make a fortune by selling her discovery. The company has already sent one person down to Brazil to find out what’s going on, Anders Eckman. But he’s disappeared, reported dead. Now, they want Dr. Marina Singh, a researcher who worked with Eckman, to go to Brazil, find out exactly what happened to her friend and colleague Anders Eckman, and bring back a firm timetable for the completion of research on the fertility drug.

Dr. Singh, of course, finds that getting in touch with her old professor, Dr. Swenson, is not as easy or uncomplicated as it looked to be from far away in good old Minnesota. And once she does arrive at Dr. Swenson’s camp among the Lakashi people, Marina Singh is embroiled in a web of competing interests and secrets and lies that threatens to keep her in the Amazon jungle for the rest of her life or perhaps end her life prematurely, as happened to her colleague, Dr. Eckman.

Some of the episodes and plot developments in the book certainly stretched mu credulity and my ability to suspend disbelief, but to list these rather unbelievable coincidences and character actions would be to spoil some of the “wonder” of the story. As a reader either you decide to go with it, or you put it down. I read to the end, and although I didn’t like certain aspects of the ending very much, I still found that the book gave me much to think about:

Would it be a good thing to have a drug that enabled women to continue to have children into their fifties and sixties and beyond? Why is it that women lose their fertility in their mid-forties? Would women’s lives be improved by such a drug? Would the children who resulted from such an innovation be better off or worse of than children who are conceived and raised while the parents, especially the mother, are relatively young?

Is it really important to protect “native” cultures from the influence of modern Western culture? How important? Should we withhold what we consider to be life-enhancing technology and medicine from those native peoples in the interest of protecting their way of life? Does this novel perpetuate the myth of the “noble savage” living in a sort of paradise and the intrusive white colonialists coming to despoil and exploit those indigenous peoples? Or is it a myth?

What does this book have to say about our current Western cultural habit of putting off child-bearing to farther and farther into a woman’s life span? Is this a good idea, and should we change our biology, our biological clock so to speak, to accommodate the choice to delay child-bearing, if we can? When we abort our babies and use contraception to avoid conceiving them and delay marriage, are we doing anything different from the people in the book who work to extend women’s fertility and child-bearing years into old age?

I didn’t really like the ambiguity of the ending in this novel, but I suppose it was necessary to make it a “literary” novel. I’m low-brow enough to like all of my loose ends tied and questions answered at the end of a book, but I know that’s not necessarily in vogue in literary circles.

Fans of Patchett’s other novels, of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness will probably find State of Wonder to be to their taste as well.

Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer

Set in the late eighteenth century and originally published in 1932, this book has a lot of conflicting cultural mores and values to balance, and I’m just not sure it works in the feminist-imbued twenty-first century. A virtuous young lady, Mary Challoner, disguises herself as her sister who has a date to run away with the rakish and self indulgent Dominic Alistair, Marquis of Vidal (Vidal for short). In the first chapter Vidal very casually murders a would-be highway robber and leaves the body lying in the middle of the road because he’s too lazy to dispose of it. Then he wounds his opponent in a duel, leaves him for dead, and rushes off to arrange his assignation with Mary’s feckless and gullible sister, Sophia. So, Mary, to save her sister, runs away with Vidal, reveals herself after a while, and hopes that Vidal will lose interest in ruining Sophia. Instead, Vidal decides to abduct Mary out of spite, and he comes close to attempted rape until Mary shoots him in the arm with a pistol.

After all of that set-up, we’re supposed to believe that Vidal is just a misunderstood “bad boy”, kind of a Rhett Butler character, and Mary is just the girl to take him in hand and tame him. Oh, and we know that he’s really a good guy deep down inside because when Mary gets seasick while crossing the Channel with her abductor, Vidal fetches a basin for her to throw up into. By the time they get to France, they are in love with each other although neither one is aware of the other’s regard, and all that remains is for them to discover their mutual admiration, soothe and get the approval of the parents on both sides of the match, assuage Sophia’s wounded pride, and save Mary’s reputation and honor.

I’m just not buying. Vidal never does come across as a good character, although Mary thinks he is. If she marries him, Mary Challoner is in for a rude awakening when he murders a servant someday for polishing his boots the wrong way or tells her that he didn’t know that she would mind his having a mistress on the side. Vidal is not shown to be misunderstood or misjudged, but rather he is absolved of all responsibility and guilt for no discernible reason. He’s actually a cad and a murderer. And if there is such a thing as slut-shaming, Sophia is a victim; it’s said to be justifiable to abduct her because she’s a naive but willing runaway. However, Mary is supposed to be honorable and a cut above her sister because she would never really run away to Paris with Vidal; it’s all a horrible misunderstanding, an adventure, and an accident.

What with the male-female double standard for marital and sexual behavior in the 1930’s and the class distinctions for what is honorable and moral behavior in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this romance is a hot mess. Honorable, decent girls shouldn’t fall in love with their would-be abductors and rapists, and if they do they can expect trouble in the subsequent marriage. As for Vidal, he doesn’t deserve a wife or a mistress, and I don’t believe his protestations of innocence and undying affection for Mary.

The spectacle of the various characters in the novel chasing one another all over France is somewhat entertaining, but othe wise this novel is both infuriating and forgettable. I’ve liked some other Heyer Regency romances, but I’d recommend giving this one a pass.

A Traveller in Time by Allison Uttley

If ever the term “time slip” applied to a book, it’s this one: Penelope Taberner Cameron slips in and out of two time periods, the twentieth century and the late sixteenth century, like butter slipping about on a plate. She never knows exactly when or how she will slip out of her own time at Thackers, the Derbyshire farm that belongs to her great aunt and uncle, and into another time, the time of Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, and the Spanish Armada. And no one in either period seems to worry too much about Penelope’s odd absences and re-appearances. It’s a sort of ghostly time travel, although it’s clear that Penelope never becomes a “ghost” in either time that she visits.

This British classic was published in 1939, and the pacing and language reflect the publishing date. Penelope’s adventures, and indeed her personality, are rather languid and slow-moving, even though the excitement of a plot to rescue Mary Queen of Scots from her English captivity does something to enliven the novel. A lot of time is spent describing farm life in the 1930’s as Penelope and her sister and brother come to spend their summer holiday, and then an even longer term, with Aunt Tissie and Uncle Barnabas. Then, there’s also a lot of description of what it was like to live in Elizabethan England. I can see how some children and teens would grow impatient with all of the descriptive passages, but I loved it all, as well as the historical aspects of the novel.

There was a BBC series of five episodes made in 1978 based on this book by Ms. Uttley, but it’s not widely available outside of Britain. Alison Uttley was also a prolific author of very popular books for younger children in England, including a series of books about Sam Pig and another about Little Grey Rabbit.

Wikipedia contrasts time slip novels like A Traveller in Time, where the protagonist has no control or agency in going from one time to another, and time travel books, in which characters use a device like a time machine or a magic talisman to make the time travel happen. Even with time travel books, however, the device often gets lost or malfunctions, leaving the characters marooned in another time period. In Traveller in Time, Penelope worries about getting stuck in the 1500’s, and at one climactic point she almost dies while she’s visiting the sixteenth century, an event which she thinks would surely cause her to also die in the twentieth century. Time slipping and time traveling is fun to read about, but I think it would make my head hurt if it actually happened to me.

If you could time slip or time travel, what time period would you like to visit? What is your favorite time slip or time travel book? (Mine are the Connie Willis books: The Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout and All Clear.)

Downriver by Will Hobbs

Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 on the Grand Canyon:
“I want you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest and in the interests of the country . . . Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you.”

I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon, but I can imagine it must be an exciting place, especially seen from a canoe deep inside the gorge. I can’t say I’m up for the trip anytime soon, but maybe in eternity when I have plenty of time to train and no fear of death.

In this YA book, eight teens, four girls and four guys, ditch their instructor in an outdoor education camp, steal his van and equipment, and drive to the Grand Canyon to paddle the rapids of the Colorado all the way through the canyon. Jessie is the narrator, angry with her dad for remarrying after her mother’s death. Troy is the wealthy, spoiled natural leader of the group, the one who talks them into their wild adventure and keeps them going once they start down the canyon. Rita is a street-smart New York Hispanic girl with a loud mouth and a gift for outdoor cooking. Heather is the one who is most likely to complain, give up, and go home. Star is from a tough background, formerly homeless, but with an ethereal quality that makes her perilously dependent on her superstitions and Tarot cards. Adam is the clown, always ready to diffuse the tension or sidetrack the conversation with a joke or a comedy routine. Pug, aka the Big Fella, is dumb, strong, and maybe dangerous; against the rules, he carries a knife. And Freddy, part Hopi and part Basque, is the best paddler and wilderness survivor of the bunch, but he’s a mystery, a man of few words, and the only one that Troy can’t figure out or dominate.

Of course, Jessie falls for the wrong guy, at first. It’s rather obvious from the outside, looking in, that Troy is a manipulative schemer. As the trip down the canyon progresses, the kids learn all about how much they can depend on one another, who’s smart and who’s not, and what they each have inside themselves. They don’t learn their own limitations nor do they really reap the consequences of their bad choices, but there’s a sequel, or a companion novel, River Thunder, and maybe that’s where these kids really grow up. Although I would never in my life have wanted to canoe anywhere calm and easy, much less in whitewater, I did enjoy reading about it. I’m on the lookout for a copy of Thunder River, to spend some more time with these flawed but compelling characters and see what happens to them next.

Just a note, probably because it was published in 1991, just before all the barriers came down, there is no bad language in the book, except indirectly referenced: “she added a string of New York’s best obscenities.” These are rebellious, delinquent kids, and probably their language would realistically reflect that. But I sure was glad I didn’t have to read a “string of obscenities.” I wish other authors would take note and leave out the particulars of nasty language, too.

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Before Verity . . . there was Julie.

Billed as a prequel to the popular spy thriller Code Name Verity, The Pearl Thief, set in Scotland and featuring a fifteen year old Julie/Verity, is a coming of age exploration of gender, identity, and bisexuality encased in a murder mystery. Of those three elements—setting, theme, and genre—only two were at all appealing to me. All of the cross-dressing and lesbian awakening stuff which tried to make itself part of the overall theme of confronting prejudice and unkindness instead made me wish the mystery itself were more compelling so that I could skip over the same-sex and opposite-sex kisses and gropings and at least enjoy the plot.

I found it difficult to believe that Julie, an upper class young lady home for the summer from finishing school, could really do the things she did with no compunction or misgivings, no voices in her head screaming that the choices she was making were wrong. She seduces an older man, shares a steamy kiss with a saucy maid while Julie is disguised as a boy, and has an intimate interlude with another girlfriend, all without much inner doubt or moral reflection. There were hints of Julie’s confused sexuality in Code Name Verity, but the hints remained just that and were easily ignored or skipped over. In this one, with a much younger Julie, the intimations have magnified backwards and become blatant and irritating, distractions from a mystery about stolen pearls and attempted murder. However, the mystery isn’t that compelling either.

Anyway, there you have it. The story in this one is subordinate to the message: travelers (gypsies), the disabled and disfigured, and LGBT persons all have to deal with prejudice and misunderstanding, but it’s easier to explore your bisexual impulses because that’s a choice that can all be kept secret and mostly unacknowledged. It’s not a particularly appealing message.

I really liked Code Name Verity, appreciated Rose Under Fire, and enjoyed Black Dove White Raven, but I thought this latest novel by Wein was a dud.

Summer Reading: High School

Shaking the Nickel Bush by Ralph Moody. “Skinny and suffering from diabetes, Ralph Moody is ordered by a Boston doctor to seek a more healthful climate. Now nineteen years old, he strikes out into new territory hustling odd jobs, facing the problem of getting fresh milk and leafy green vegetables. He scrapes around to survive, risking his neck as a stunt rider for a movie company. With an improvident buddy named Lonnie, he camps out in an Arizona canyon and ‘shakes the nickel bush’ by sculpting plaster of paris busts of lawyers and bankers. This is 1918, and the young men travel through the Southwest not on horses but in a Ford aptly named Shiftless.” This book is the sixth book in a series of eight autobiographical novels by Ralph Moody, the author and protagonist who had to grow up fast after his father’s death when Ralph was only eleven years old. High schoolers may want to start with the fist book in the series, Little Britches, or just begin with this one, a gripping tale of a young man’s adventures and growth.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. High school is the right time to be introduced to Harper Lee’s great American novel. And then to the movie, which by my exacting standards is just as good as the novel. The story takes place over the course of more than one year, winter summer fall and spring, but it feels like a summertime novel, as Jem and Scout play with the summer visitor, and as they grow and learn about the realities of life in A good follow-up story is I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora, about a trio of rising ninth graders who spend the summer promoting TKAM and preparing for their big move to high school.

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. In the fictional account of the Philadelphia 1793 yellow fever epidemic, Fever 1793, Laurie Halse Anderson illustrates the deadly nature of yellow fever and its effects on the community with a story about Mattie Cook, a girl of fourteen who lives above a coffeehouse that provides her family’s livelihood. Since Mattie’s father is dead, Mattie’s mother, her grandmother, and the black cook, Eliza, run the coffeehouse, and Mattie and the serving girl, Polly, help. At the beginning of the book in August 1793, Mattie worries about her mother’s temper and about how to get a little extra sleep and avoid as much work as possible. By the end of the story, Mattie has been forced to take on adult responsibilities: nursing, providing food for her family, repelling thieves and intruders, and running the coffeehouse. Take a look at this post on Semicolon for more books about fevers, epidemics, and plagues.

Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins. Light summer reading. Fifteen year old Jazz Gardner’s mom tells her that the family is going to spend the summer in India, helping out at the orphanage that Mrs. Gardner lived in before she was adopted. And at about the same time, Jazz realizes that her feelings for Steve, her longtime business partner, have turned into something more than just platonic friendship. Unfortunately, there’s no indication from Steve that he sees Jazz as anything but a friend and a partner. And other girls are after Steve. And the business needs her. And who wants to go to India, anyway?

A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle. I love Madeleine L’Engle, and Ring of Endless Light is one of my favorites. The Austin family is spending the summer with Vicky’s grandfather who is dying. As Vicky writes her poetry and deals with her grief over her grandfather, she also finds friendship and maybe even romance with three very different boys: Zachary, the wild romantic; Leo, an old friend; and Adam, the dolphin researcher.

Summer Moonshine by P.G. Wodehouse. Sir Buckstone Abbott is an English baron with a house he can’t keep up, so he rents out the rooms in Walsingford Hall to an odd assortment of boarders. Then, Sir Bucksone Abbott goes into debt, then into hiding, and leaves his daughter, Jane, to take care of things in his absence. Wodehousian romantic and monetary entanglements, confusion, and ridiculousness ensue. This one is not Bertie and Jeeves and not set at Blandings Castle, but it’s humor from 1937 that translates into the twenty-first century quite satisfactorily. Many high schoolers should be ready to be introduced to Wodehouse, especially those who became Anglophiles, as I did, while reading British children’s literature.

Nonfiction for High School Reading:

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Subtitled “Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics”, this narrative nonfiction book is for anyone interested in sports stories in general, rowing in particular, the rise of Nazism, the 1930’s, Olympic history, and just plain inspirational stories of perseverance and courage.

Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen. “Over Philadelphia, the air lay hot and humid: old people said it was the worst summer since 1750. . . . In the Pennsylvania State House, which we call Independence Hall, some fifty-five delegates, named by the legislatures of twelve states (Rhode Island balked, refusing attendance) met in convention, and during a summer of hard work and high feeling wrote out a plan of government which they hoped the states would accept, and which they entitled The Constitution of the United States of America.” Catherine Drinker Bowen tells readers, teens and adults as well, all about what took place in “the room where it happened” during that summer of 1787.

Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins. The true story of a young man who decided to walk across the country from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific in search of . . . himself? Meaning? Patriotism? It’s a great story, and I absolutely loved living vicariously through Mr. Jenkins’ journey through the United States of 1979. (Jenkins only made it to New Orleans in the first book, so there’s a sequel, The Walk West.)

More Summer Reading ideas:

Summer Reading, Summer Setting.
Summer Reading: 52 Picks for the Hols.
June: Death in Summer.
Summer Reading: 2006.
Summer Reading List: Summer After High School.

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Here are my thoughts from 2014 on the book called The Circle, soon to be released as a motion picture. Perhaps the movie will fill out the characters and retain the thought-provoking ideas.

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Are you afraid of the continued encroachment of Big Government and Big Business and Big Internet on the privacy of individuals? Are you worried about the implications of surveillance drones, cashless business models, data-mining, and internet search engines that seem to be more and more ubiquitous and indispensable to more and more people? Have you opted out of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and all other social media sites because you want to keep your self to yourself?

If you answered yes to all three questions, you don’t need to read The Circle, but you’ll probably want to read it because you’ll find your own opinions about privacy, the internet, and our own Brave New World, validated and extended in this fictional dsytopia where “The Circle” of everyone knowing everything about everyone is almost complete. If Eldest Daughter wanted to win her friends over to her way of thinking about what the internet is doing to humans and to their social abilities and to their privacy rights, she would give a copy of The Circle to each of them with an admonition to read at their own risk.

Scary stuff. It’s somewhat unbelievable that the main character, a young college graduate named Mae, is so gullible as to never really question, even once, the vast internet conspiracy (or benevolent business model) that is called The Circle in this story. In fact, Mae is a frustrating character, so blind to the consequences of her actions and to the implications of a society built on the concept of complete and total transparency, as to be rather mindless. However, this book isn’t about either plot or characters: it’s about propaganda. It’s about what living a virtual life in a virtual world with social media as our most vital connection could do to us. Have we become, or are we in danger of becoming, rather mindless ourselves? Are we willing to give up all of our freedom for the sake of safety and security? Could our private lives and our independent judgment be taken away, or could we be induced to give them away, piece by piece, for a mess of pottage?

SECRETS ARE LIES, SHARING IS CARING, PRIVACY IS THEFT!

If you believe these central organizing “truths” of The Circle, read The Circle and think about the real implications of a world that is totally and mandatorily transparent. If you believe that Google and Facebook and Twitter are the opiates of the masses, and that 1984 is closer than we think, read The Circle and be vindicated. If you’re philosophically opposed to agitprop and think you already know all about the message Mr. Eggers has to preach, skip it.

Bottom line: flat characters, improbable plot and characterizations, thought-provoking message.

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Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson

“Freedom would not be handed to us like a gift. Freedom had to be fought for and taken.”

This third and final book in Ms. Anderson’s Seeds of America trilogy wraps up the story of Curzon and Isabel, the black teens who have weathered the vicissitudes of the American revolution and of slavery, freedom, and re-capture and are now near their goal: the liberation of Isabel’s younger sister, Ruth, and her restoration to freedom and the only family she has, Isabel.

As always, however, in this series and in life, things don’t necessarily turn out the way one expects. Ruth, when she is found in Carolina, rejects Isabel and says she remembers nothing about her or their former life together in Rhode Island with their family. Also, Isabel and Curzon can’t agree about the war. Isabel believes, from experience, that neither the British nor the Continentals have any sympathy or good intentions for the freedom and welfare of black Americans, slave or free. Curzon believes in the ideals of the Revolution, and he believes that somehow, someday those ideals will be extended to apply to black people, too. So, they argue and separate, and eventually come back together because both love and circumstance push them together.

Ms. Anderson has written a trilogy that should become a classic in the genre of historical fiction about the American Revolution. Because of the violence and cruelty portrayed in the books, I would recommend them for middle school and high school readers, but they are invaluable in their depiction of the war from a different perspective, that of a courageous young black man and woman who maintain their dignity and determination throughout.

Red Moon Rising by K.A. Holt

There was a brief time when I was young that I went through a reading binge of Indian captive narratives. These stories, both fictional and nonfiction, were quite popular back in the day. Nonfiction narrative memoirs of people, usually girls, who were captured by Indians and later escaped or were rescued, were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, in particular. And fiction novels for children, sometimes based on the earlier nonfiction memoirs, were popular in the mid-twentieth century. These kinds of stories came to be regarded with suspicion and even disdain, since the descriptions of Native Americans and Native American culture are all from a European American point of view. The Native Americans in these stories are alien, strange, and often cruel and ignorant.

All that to say, K.A. Holt’s Red Moon Rising reads like an Indian captivity novel, but the “Indians” are the Cheese, natives of a moon that Rae Darling and her frontier farming family have colonized. The Cheese are foreign, cruel, and ugly in the eyes of the colonists. Rae and her family are tradition-bound, conservative, and blind to the possibility of peace and understanding between themselves and the Cheese. The Cheese capture Rae and adopt her into their “tribe”, and Rae must decide whether to remain loyal to the colonists or to became a part of the Cheese, whose culture is in many ways freer and more indigenous and friendly to the Red Moon than Rae’s colonist culture.

It’s interesting to think that perhaps Ms. Holt wanted to write an Indian captivity novel and deal with all the issues of cross-cultural understanding and misunderstanding inherent in that plot, but instead of doing the onerous research that writing about a particular Native American culture and place would involve, she was able to simply make up a people and a culture, the Cheese, and impose on them whatever characteristics and morals were most convenient for her narrative. Did she do a good job of world-building and of showing the difficulties and advantages of crossing from one culture to another? For the most part, yes, although Rae certainly has an easier time accepting some things, like forced training in fighting and war, and a harder time accepting others, like native Cheese boots, than I would think she might.

Despite the criticisms of these Indian, or Native American, captivity narratives and novels, I think that stories like these can serve as a bridge to help children (and adults) understand and see the virtues as well as the drawbacks in other cultures. And a science fiction/fantasy story like Red Moon Rising can be even more helpful in giving readers a way to “see both sides” and reserve judgment, since elements of the story can easily be generalized and applied to many different cultural encounters and confrontations.

Despite the sometimes heavy-handed emphasis on female empowerment and religious stereotypes, Red Moon Rising is a good adventure story with some thought-provoking themes. By the way, warning, the book is quite heavy on the violence, blood, and gore, too, so more sensitive readers beware. And, for the sake of comparison, here are some of those captivity narratives and novels that I enjoyed as a young teen and a few that have been published since then:

Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison by Lois Lenski.
The Ransom of Mercy Carter by Caroline B. Cooney.
Valiant Captive by Erick Berry.
Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare.
The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter.
Where the Broken Heart Still Beats: The Story of Cynthia Ann Parker by Carolyn Meyer.
White Captives by Evelyn Sibley Lampman.
Wait For Me, Watch For Me, Eula Bee by Patricia Beatty.
Moccasin Trail by Eloise Jarvis McGraw.
Beaded Moccasins: the Story of Mary Campbell by Linda Durrant.
I Am Regina by Sally Keenh.
Trouble’s Daughter: the Story of Susanna Hutchinson, Indian Captive by Katherine Kirkpatrick.
Standing in the Light: the Captive Diary of Catherine Carey Logan by Mary Pope Osborne.

If you’re interested in reading more about this sort of story, its origins and uses, here are a couple of articles I found interesting:

Gimme Shelter by Janet at Dear Author, about romance captivity novels and memoirs.
Dark Places: the Tradition of Captivity Narratives by Gina Showalter in the NYT.

The Skeleton Tree by Iain Lawrence

Alaska. Boat capsized. Two teens marooned on the coast with no means of communication. Survival fiction. If these are your buzzwords, The Skeleton Tree should be your next read. It’s not as feel-good as the classic, My Side of the Mountain, but it is a well written, as far as I can tell well researched, survival story about two boys who learn to cooperate in spite of their deep differences.

Chris is twelve. His father just died a year before the book begins, and his Uncle Jack wants to take him on a sailing adventure down the Alaska coast from Kodiak. When Chris arrives to join Uncle Jack on the boat, he finds that there is another person on the boat, a sixteen year old boy named Franklin. Almost immediately after they cast off, with the boys’ questions about each other still unanswered, a storm overtakes the sailboat, and tragedy strikes. Uncle Jack is lost at sea, and the two boys must survive in the wilderness with bears, wolves, and imminent starvation as their immediate adversaries. Unfortunately, Frank is a bully and a braggart, and Chris is a boy who is used to being bullied, but tired of taking it. So, their relationship and lack of cooperation threaten to be more of an impediment to their survival than the outside dangers.

I was impressed with the details in this book about how to (or how not to) start a fire, how to treat an infected wound, how to catch salmon and preserve it, and other survival skills. The author says that he lived on the coast of British Columbia for many years within sight of Alaska and that he learned a lot about living in that “surprisingly wild” environment. The title, Skeleton Tree, is taken from the tree that the boys find that is a Native American burial ground, for lack of a better term. The skeletons of dead people are in coffins wedged in the tree, not buried and not on the ground. According to the author who got his information from a book about Alaskan history by Charles Haddock, “tree burials were once common in Alaska.” Mr. Lawrence also recounts his story of once having seen a still-living skeleton tree himself somewhere on the Northern Pacific coast.

The book is older middle grade or young adult with some difficult family situations referenced, but not described in detail. I’d say any fan of survival stories from age twelve to sixteen or seventeen might want to check this one out.