by Iain Lawrence
Jan. 5, 2016
Award-winning author Iain Lawrence presents this modern-day adventure and classic in the making, in the vein of The Call of the Wild, Hatchet, and The Cay.
Less than forty-eight hours after twelve-year-old Chris sets off on a sailing trip down the Alaskan coast with his uncle, their boat sinks. The only survivors are Chris and a boy named Frank, who hates Chris immediately. Chris and Frank have no radio, no flares, no food. Suddenly, they’ve got to forage, fish, and scavenge the shore for supplies. Chris likes the company of a curious, friendly raven more than he likes the prickly Frank. But the boys have to get along if they want to survive.
Because as the days get colder and the salmon migration ends, survival will take more than sheer force of will. Eventually, in the wilderness of Alaska, the boys discover an improbable bond—and the compassion that might truly be the path to rescue.
Still mourning his father’s passing, 12 year old Chris sets out on a sailing adventure down the Alaskan coast with his uncle and another young boy named Frank. Less than two days into the trip, catastrophe strikes and the boat sinks, killing Chris’s uncle and marooning the two boys on a deserted strip of coast. Frank’s severe hostility and hatred of the young boy has Chris bonding with a strange raven. But as the days wear on, the food diminishes, and with danger everywhere, the two boys must learn to work together or die.
Iain Lawrence’s The Skeleton Tree is an intense, at times captivating, middle-grade survival story. While I wasn’t blown away by this book, it certainly held my attention until the very end.
One thing Lawrence does very well in The Skeleton Tree, is capture the wild, unforgiving, and breathtaking Alaskan wilderness. Lushly and richly presented, this startling and immense world, with its simultaneously enchanting and terrifying allure, makes for an ambitious and thrilling setting. The dangers and hardships the boys face, and the discoveries they make, feel very real and immediate.
However, the emotional aspects in The Skeleton Tree, which are just as (if not more) important as the physical world and journey, feel less authentic, and, at times, disjointed and rushed. Lawrence explores some heavy issues and emotional baggage in this book, but doesn’t always do so with the poignancy and attention the boys’ story deserves. I think part of the problem for me, are Chris and Frank. I just never truly connected with either boy. I liked endearing Chris well enough, but found Frank an inconsistent and sometimes unbearable character.
Lawrence weaves in some climatic (although predictable for older readers) twists and revelations and will certainly leave readers thoughtful.
my final thoughts: The Skeleton Tree offers a bewitching setting and real thrills, however for me, the book lacks too much when it comes to character development and emotional arcs. Young readers craving intense adventure and wilderness settings will certainly be impressed, though.