This survival tale highlights one of the worst sea disasters of World War II: the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945.
It’s recounted by Patrick, a 12-year-old caring for his younger brother, mute ever since the two were evacuated without their parents from Manila in 1941. Desperate to find their parents, the siblings have stowed away on the Indy with the help of Benny, a tough-talking Marine with a heart of gold. When Benny shares his opinions and philosophies, his experiences and prejudices are on the surface. He has choice words for both Japanese troops and the U.S. Navy. But in the end, he is never too harsh a judge and instills in Patrick the Marine code: never leave a man behind. Benny will live and die fulfilling this promise to his charges. Descriptions of the explosions onboard are graphic; men are maimed and killed. Benny gets the brothers off the ship, where new trials begin. They float at sea for days on a soggy pallet; heatstroke, dehydration, and delirium set in; sharks circle. The carnage is gruesome. Given Benny’s essential kindness, it’s unfortunate that at one point, while prodding the boys, he tells them they are swimming like “pansies.” Extensive backmatter rounds out the incredible history.
Readers ready for a strong dose of survival and war action will find this well-researched episode entirely gripping. (Historical fiction. 8-12)