CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 11 . . . . January 31, 2003
The enduring popularity of survival stories among young readers is well-known to librarians and teachers. Tropical settings and arctic regions are particularly well-suited for this genre. Storm-Blast, a first novel by Curtis Parkinson, is set in the Grenadines where, in the words of one character, "a storm can turn the sweet blue Caribbean into a monster." When 14-year-old Ryan hears that his and his cousin's family will be chartering a sailboat and spending their holiday exploring the Grenadines, he is both excited and apprehensive. On the one hand, he is an avid reader fascinated with stories of adventure; on the other hand, he is beset with a fear of heights and an over-active imagination. As he reads his sea stories, he can't help wondering: "This yacht they're chartering, what if it hits something and sinks? What if??..."
Parkinson's judicious use of foreshadowing to create and maintain the suspense is exactly what is needed to keep teenaged readers turning the pages of Storm-Blast. Ryan, his older sister Carol (who never misses an opportunity to put her brother in his place) and his sturdy confident cousin Matt are the three teens who get caught up in a tropical storm and find themselves adrift on the Caribbean Ocean in a dinghy with a disabled motor. With only a jug of water, a few towels and two oars, they are blown by a fearful storm far out to sea, out beyond the range of easy rescue. With his sister and cousin hurt, the dinghy gradually losing air, both oars lost and sharks circling the boat, it falls to Ryan to make a daring attempt to attract the attention of would-be rescuers.
Ryan learns some important lessons about himself in the course of the story. Significant changes in the relationships of the young people, as well as between Ryan and his critical, rather aloof father, are woven believably into the fabric of Storm-Blast. Parkinson has taken lines from Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" to introduce each of his 24 chapters. Each quotation applies amazingly appropriately either to the unfolding of the plot or to the development of the protagonist. Thanks to the author, language arts teachers have been given a splendid opportunity to segue from modern YA fiction to one of the most famous narrative poems of all time. With his ear for naturalistic dialogue, ability to move the plot along at a brisk pace, and eye for just the right amount of descriptive detail to evoke setting, Parkinson has written a survival novel which will be thoroughly enjoyed by readers in the middle years.
Storm-Blast is a not-to-be-missed addition to the elementary or junior high library, and Curtis Parkinson an author to be watched by those involved with selecting fiction for young readers.
Valerie Nielsen, a retired teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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