CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 3. . . .September 18, 2009
Absolute Pressure. (Orca Sports).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2009.
159 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Thom Knutson.
My lungs were made of soft flesh. Not tough plastic like a milk jug. My lungs would become a mess of blood and pulp if I swam up too quickly. Fifty feet above me, with less pressure on me than at ninety feet, the air now inside my lungs would take up double the space. My lungs would explode.
Worse, when my lungs ripped inside me, air bubbles would get into my blood. And once those bubbles reach my brain, Iíd be dead.
Ninety-three feet from the top and running out of air, there was only one thing to do. A thousand to one shot. Or even less of a chance than that.
I unsnapped myself from the guideline. I dropped the weights from my belt and kicked upward. Already I wanted to suck for air. But I forced myself to breathe out instead. I had to keep bleeding air out of my lungs so that they wouldnít explode like the plastic milk jug.
I kicked more. It got easier once I left the ship. Without the weights, I was like a cork. There was air in my diving vest too. That buoyant air was taking me higher and faster.
I kept pushing air out of my lungs. My body screamed for me to suck something in, not force it out. My body wanted to keep all the air. But if I held my breath, my lungs would rip.
Higher and higher. Second after second. I kept breathing out, kept pushing air out of my starving lungs.
I felt something punch my chest. It was an air pocket in the vest, blowing apart as the air inside it expanded. It reminded me to keep pushing air out of my lungs, no matter what.
My sight became fuzzy and black around the edges. I needed air so badly I was about to pass out. But if I did, my body would try to breathe. My lungs would suck in water, not air.
The water grew brighter and brighter. But would I make the surface in time?
Then I remembered.
If I was going straight up, I would hit the boat. Like a cork popping out of water. But corks donít have skulls that can be smashed. I did.
With my last ounce of energy, I kicked, trying to move straight ahead as I rose. I kicked. Kicked. Kicked?
The black around the edges of my eyesight expanded. I heard roaring in my ears. And finally, I hit sweet air.
My body popped all the way out of the water. When I landed, I saw the outline of the boat. Only ten feet away.
I sucked in lungful after lungful of air. Nothing in my life had ever felt better.
It had been close. Too close.
I waited for some energy to return. I swam toward the boat.
Judd leaned over. His face showed worry.
ďIan? Ian? Whatís the matter?Ē
I waved at him. It was a weak wave. I didnít have the strength for anything else. Not even the strength to talk.
I bumped up against the ladder. I tried to climb, but I couldnít. Judd reached down and helped me out of the water.
I got onto the boat.
ďWhat happened?Ē Judd asked.
Water drained from my wet suit and my gear. I unbuckled my tank and vest and let both fall to the deck of the boat. I limped toward a bench seat. I let myself down. I lay back, staring at the blue sky.
And I waited to see if I would die.
Ian is 17 and happy to be spending the summer working on his Uncle Gordís tourist dive boat off the Florida Keys. He has just dropped a toy treasure chest into a sunken military ship for guest divers to find, and is about to head back to the surface when the pressure valve on his air tank breaks. With air blasting out uncontrollably, Ian realizes his only hope is to head the 90 feet up to the boat immediately, despite the danger of resurfacing too quickly. Barely making it, Ian is rushed to the hospital where he is placed in a compression chamber to reduce the effects of the bends. Throughout the painful episode, Ian is starting to wonder: did the valve break on its own, or was sabotaged, and if so, why? None of it makes any sense to him.
The day after Ian recovers, he joins Uncle Gord at a local coffee. There, his uncle reveals the story of three Miami lawyers on the search for an old Spanish ship and its cargo of gold coins. Uncle Gord has agreed to help the men, but with the discovery of the tampered air valve on the tank normally used by Gord, Ianís uncle is beginning to wonder if someone is trying to prevent them from finding the wreck. As the action heats up, along with Ianís romantic interest in Sherri, Ian is annoyed to find himself being sent back to his motherís home in Chicago by Uncle Gord, the result of a close call with a shark. Ian, however, is not prepared to leave. He secretly doubles back in the truck Uncle Gord has given him, and quietly attempts to unravel the mystery that grows more and more complex and dangerous.
Sigmund Brouwers Absolute Pressure takes the reader into an exciting and fast-paced world of deep sea diving, treasure hunting, attempted murder and cover-up. The story opens with a hook that will appeal to those seeking adventure on the edge:
One hundred and thirty feet doesnít sound like much. If youíre walking.
Youíd think twice if you were climbing that far. Itís about twelve stories high. Nothing fun about clinging to the side of a building one hundred and thirty feet off the ground.
But what about the other direction? Underground or in shark-infested water.
From this point forward, the drama builds as Ian encounters more questions than answers. Eventually the narrative spins into a Baywatch-style crime adventure that neatly wraps up the various strands into a tidy ending. The one unusual element is the inclusion of a condition that Ian experiences called synesthesia. An authorís note at the end of the story describes it as a rare neural condition which results in the crossing of two or more of the senses. For Ian, it means colours are intermingled with taste and touch:
As I was going out of the cubby hole, a small fish brushed against my left elbow. Bright red filled my vision. I didnít panic. I knew about the spot on my elbow. Behind my right knee, there?s a patch of skin that makes me see green whenever I rub it.
While the synesthesia is a mildly interesting addition to Ianís character, the plot does stand alone without it.
Part of the ďOrca SportsĒ series, Absolute Pressure will provide teachers with a read-aloud that will capture the imagination of boys while holding appeal for a general younger teen audience. Readers who find the book on their own will, for the most part, not be disappointed.
Thom Knutson is the Fine and Performing Arts Coordinator at Saskatoon Public Library in Saskatoon, SK.
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