________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 8 . . . . December 5, 2008

cover Submarine Outlaw.

Philip Roy.
Vancouver, BC: Ronsdale Press, 2008.
251 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 978-1-55380-058-3.

Subject Headings:
Submarines (Ships)-Juvenile literature.
Adventure stories.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Karen Taylor.

*** /4


By morning we rounded the cape into the mouth of Trinity Bay. Now we faced a difficult choice. Straight across the Bay was about twenty nautical miles, which we could sail by engine in about two hours. But it was open water all the way. The other option – to hug the coast – would take us all the way in and around Trinity Bay, which, by a combination of pedalling, battery and engine power, would take at least four to five days. What to do? I decided to sleep on it and started searching for underwater formations to hide us from the sky. Then something occurred to me. Joe and Eddie said the coastguard and navy were watching their radar at night, and the Sea Kings would be out in the day, scanning the coastline like hawks.

What if I sailed straight across the mouth of the bay, on the surface, right in the middle of day – the last thing anybody would expect? It seemed pretty risky, and yet, perhaps the best strategy was the one nobody would think of. I remember what Joe had said – nobody could outsmart the navy and coastguard. The truth was – that was my best chance.

Albert doesn’t want to follow the family tradition of quitting school at 14 to become a fisherman. Instead, he wants a life of adventure and exploration. The opportunity to do this comes when Albert looks through a gap in the fence surrounding the local junkyard and accidentally mistakes an old oil tank for a submarine. This chance sighting becomes the impetus for his friendship with Ziegfried, the owner of the junkyard, who envisions and implements a plan to convert the tank into a functioning submarine by using salvaged parts. During the two and a half years that it takes the two of them to build the submarine, Albert becomes an expert on underwater and marine travel as he learns how to assemble and disassemble an engine, develops his lung capacity through free diving to increasing depths, learns Morse code, and becomes adept at underwater navigation (among other things). Eventually, they launch the submarine, and Albert’s first goal as an explorer is to circumnavigate Newfoundland before winter sets in. On his journey, he befriends an odd assortment of animals and people, and he learns about human frailty in the face of natural forces, himself, and others through his various adventures, which include marine rescues, storms, and nearly being washed overboard, while at the same time eluding the coast guard.

     Although Albert is a far more responsible and conscientious teenager than most, his character is entirely believable. Told in the first person, Albert’s journey around Newfoundland is realistic and will provide readers familiar with the Newfoundland coast pleasure in recognizing well-known features and landmarks. Others may be inspired to pull out a map as this reviewer was. There are several suspenseful moments where Roy illustrates (without being didactic) the potential dangers of solo sea exploring. These events are realistic and help maintain the story’s momentum but are carefully rendered – this isn’t suspense for suspense sake but a sensible portrayal of a possible reality.

     Submarine Outlaw is a nicely paced story, and I particularly appreciated the contemporary Canadian content which is relevant and furthers Canada’s eastern maritime identity. In addition, several themes emerge throughout the story, including the theme of place (Newfoundland history and geography from both a land-based and marine-based perspective), and the theme of responsibility (to others and to self). The theme of exploration and solo pursuits also stands out for its message that not all the choices to be made about our adult identities need be predicated on peer or family pressure, financial gain or prestige. Indeed, sometimes following a dream will bring all the riches one can ever want. Submarine Outlaw is a lovely story that would give pleasure to independent readers 9 to 11 years of age, or 12 to 13-year-old reluctant readers.


Karen Taylor is a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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