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Sink or Swim: A Novel of WWII

 2017. 272pp. Scholastic Press. 9781338057904, Grades 4-8

 School Library Connection

This is a must-read historical fiction story about a young boy who decides to do his part to fight the Nazis in World War II. Twelve year-old Colton and his older brother Danny are out fishing when a German U-boat surfaces and knocks Danny out of his boat. With Danny in a coma and due to report to the recruitment office for Navy boot camp, Colton decides someone in the family needs to fight the Nazis. After stealing his brother’s papers, he gets put through to boot camp and then submarine chaser school. This captivating, don’t-want-to-put-it-down story of Colton’s journey will keep the reader on the edge of his or her seat, just waiting to see what happens next. This would be an excellent book to pair with non-fiction reads about World War II and could be used as a jumping off point for research on the subject. The book includes a glossary of terms that may be unfamiliar, as well as an author’s note about a 12-year-old boy who actually did serve in the Navy. This book is captivating and will please a variety of audiences.

School Library Journal

Twelve-year-old Colton steals his brother Danny’s enlistment papers and joins the Navy. (Danny was badly hurt when a German U-boat hit their fishing boat and is in a coma.) Colton, surprisingly, survives boot camp and is soon on a ship in the Navy. Through his time at sea, Colton promises to take care of his family and fight the Germans that hurt his brother. Although the premise seems unbelievable, it is based on a true story of the youngest U.S. soldier to fight in Word War II. Colton is a strong character who allows younger readers to get a glimpse into combat life during the Second World War. The book is full of action, adventure, and history. Watkins explains enough aspects of the Navy to engage readers, but keeps it brief so as not to take attention away from the main plot. VERDICT As little context is explored, this novel will be best appreciated by readers with a basic knowledge of World War II history.

KIRKUS REVIEW

The experiences of a 12-year-old in the Battle of the Atlantic are chronicled in this engrossing historical novel.

When a surfacing U-boat destroys their fishing boat and severely injures his older brother, Danny, off the North Carolina coast, Colton assumes his older brother’s identity and enlists in the U.S. Navy. After surviving the brutal trials of boot camp, Colton is assigned to a patrol craft, designed primarily for anti-submarine warfare. Colton’s ship first patrols American coastal waters looking for U-boats preying on merchant vessels, then is assigned to escort convoys traversing the North Atlantic. Operating in intensely adverse weather conditions, Colton’s ship battles “wolf packs” of several U-boats attacking convoys. In one action, the patrol craft is rammed and sunk by a U-boat. Colton’s closest shipmate is killed, and the surviving crew remain at sea in a lifeboat until rescued. A leg wound lands Colton in a hospital stateside and gains him an ensuing discharge from the Navy. The narrative is full of action but short on character development. If the idea of a 12-year-old enlisting in the Navy seems blatantly implausible, there is historical precedent. In an afterword, Watkins explains that his inspiration for the novel is the real-life experience of 12-year-old Calvin Graham, who enlisted in the Navy and served in the Pacific theater.

A briskly paced, action-packed, surprisingly realistic war story.