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King, who wrote the hilarious Me and My Millions (1979), draws on his experience with disaster relief in East Pakistan in this light treatment of a 13-year-old island boy's encounter with irrational forces, bureaucratic and otherwise. When a cyclone comes and with it high water, Apu clings to an uprooted tree and is swept away . . . and back again hours later to the mound where he's lived in his uncle's house. But the house is gone and so are all signs of life on the island, though piles of dead bodies remain. Apu lives on roots until men come in a boat and ask questions. Then an airplane drops crates of tinned food he can't open. Another boat comes and takes him to an aircraft carrier (a large fiat gray island, to him), and he finally ends up in a city boarding school, in a class with boys his age though he's never seen a book. All of this--from the aircraft carrier, to a hotel elevator, to the classroom map Apu deciphers in a sudden flash of understanding--is described from the totally naive viewpoint of a boy overcome by the strangeness of it all. Finally Khoka, a beggar boy Apu meets in the city, talks him into stealing a boat and returning to his island. By now, islanders themselves are pirating and selling the relief cargo, and Khoka's beggar ring sees an opportunity. But when the boys finally arrive in the islands, they find a Catch-22 situation: they have to be on a community list to get food, but Apu has been declared dead and so is not on the list. The absurdity of it all comes to a head in some very funny conversations with an officious administrator . . . before Apu is reunited with his uncle's family, whom he had presumed dead. Overall this hasn't the zip of Me and My Millions, but the distinctive setting and King's unduped depiction of all parties give it an edge that is rare in juvenile treatments of such material.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1982
Publisher: T.Y. Crowell