Lost in the River of Grass by Ginny Rorby is a wonderful book about a girl who escapes a class field trip and takes a ride on an airboat into the Everglades.
The Everglades can be a scary place–as anyone who has visited there well knows. Huge alligators, hungry mosquitos, lethal snakes, razor-sharp plants–all are very real dangers to the unwary.
Sarah is the poor, scholarship girl at the private school and is being teased or ignored by her classmates on the trip to the Everglades. They leave for a day trip and Sarah escapes back to her room. On the way, she meets a boy, Andy, about her age. He is working on an airboat and when he offers her a ride into the Everglades, she accepts.
The ride turns into an adventure that might just cost both of them their lives–because of one mistake, they end up stranded in the middle of the Everglades miles from civilization. With little food and water, Sarah and Andy must survive by using their wits.
The story is well written and the characters are real–not cardboard actors in the drama. Both Sarah and Andy are far from perfect teenagers. Sarah is insecure and terrified of the Everglades. Andy is scared, but he doesn’t want to show his fear in front of Sarah–to the point where he almost drowns because he doesn’t want her to know he can’t swim.
The first person narrative lets the reader know what Sarah is thinking and feeling as she learns to overcome her fears. Rescuing a baby duck helps because in caring for the duckling, Teapot, Sarah must face down her phobias (snakes).
For anyone who has visited Florida, especially the Everglades, the journey becomes very real. One can imagine the endless swamp and sawgrass, the cedar thickets and, most frightening, the alligators.
Interestingly, the reader does not realize that Sarah is black until the end of the story. In the meantime, the reader learns that Andy’s father is an ex-con who has decorated his garage with a Confederate flag. The meaning behind this becomes apparent when Andy tells Sarah, after the journey is over, that he ripped down the flag, and his father didn’t do anything about it.
The meaning is clear: both Andy and Sarah emerge from their odyssey wiser and more confident in themselves and in the relationship they forged during their hardships.
This is a wonderful choice for middle grade and young adult readers all over the country. For those who have not visited the Everglades–this story will entice them to visit one of this country’s natural wonders–the river 50 miles wide and an inch deep.
Disclaimer: this review was based on a digital galley provided by NetGalley. The reviewer does not review books she does not consider worthy of recommendation.