Being a bit of a girlie girl, I wouldn\’t usually choose a book like To Die For, by Mark Svendsen. It has nothing to do with the film of the same name, but tells the story of Christos, a fourteen year old boy whose parents allow him to go on an overnight fishing trip alone. While this book would definitely appeal to boys more than girls, it isn\’t just for boys. It\’s about growing up, learning to stand on your own two feet, faith, love, fear, and courage. It brought the children\’s classic, My Side of the Mountain to mind, as both books are about a young boy testing his strength in the natural world. This book also has the potential to become a classic. Its literary and thematic merit makes it well deserving of a place on the high school reading list.
The book spans only a day and a night, but like Christos, the reader is changed by the experience. As Christos begins his trip, he encounters difficulties, and makes mistakes, but these are minor compared to the eventual situation he finds himself in: menaced by a tiger shark. With most of the action centring around Christos, Svendsen\’s work is masterful; he manages to keep the reader\’s interest, skilfully changing the pace from exiting action, to calm reflection, to danger and suspense. The language is simple, making the book an easy read, though I did tend to get confused about the parts of boats and the kinds of fishing gear.
The simplicity of the writing; however, does not mean that this is only a book for young adults. I was reminded of Steinbeck\’s The Pearl; although the ideas in both books are very different, the light touch of both authors allows the presentation of very weighty themes with great subtlety. It is difficult to describe a character facing death without slipping into melodrama, but in the main the author manages the task superbly, and makes the reader consider the way he or she would meet a similar challenge. Christos is very alone on the water, and alone as he undergoes a rite of passage on his way to manhood. At the same time, he is intimately connected to nature and to the rhythms of existence, even to the shark he faces. We are all always, alone, and yet we are never alone: Svendsen evokes this simply and beautifully.
Available now: Random House RRP$16.95