________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 27 . . . . March 16, 2012


Ghosts of the Pacific. (The Submarine Outlaw Series; 4).

Philip Roy.
Vancouver, BC: Ronsdale Press, 2011.
251 pp., trade pbk., $11.95.
ISBN 978-1-55380-130-6.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Kim Aippersbach.

**** /4



Suddenly the walrus jumped off the ice and disappeared. Rats! They scared him away. Now they were screaming their heads off. What the heck was wrong with them? I turned around and froze. There was a polar bear right behind me.

The bear climbed onto the hull just as I ducked inside the portal. I didn’t even have time to pull the hatch down. And we couldn’t dive without shutting the hatch. I couldn’t flip the automatic switch either, because the bear was in the way. The motor would burn out against dead resistance.

The bear was so heavy he pulled the sub sideways. I was afraid he was going to pull us right over. But he didn’t. He stuck his nose into the portal but was too big to climb inside. I looked up. It was terrifying to see a bear so close. Hollie stood between my feet and I felt him shiver and growl but couldn’t hear him over the sound of the bear’s breathing. The bear sounded like a monster. Water dripped from his mouth and splashed us in the face. I could see only one of his eyes but we looked at each other. He didn’t look like he was trying to eat us; he just looked curious. With my heart pounding I pointed the camera and held the button down.

Ghosts of the Pacific is the fourth book in “The Submarine Outlaw” series by Philip Roy. Each book is independent and can be read without having read the others. Roy’s writing keeps getting better and better. He has a fun, original concept: orphaned Alfred has his own submarine, in which he sails around the world having adventures with a dog and a seagull.

     In Ghosts of the Pacific, Alfred sails from Newfoundland through the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean. He encounters polar bears and gets trapped in the ice just like John Franklin. In the Pacific, he gets shot at by a shrimp trawler when he cuts the trawler's net to release trapped turtles and dolphins. He rides out a storm, meets a floating circus—where he gets medical attention—and sails into a sea of plastic garbage the size of Texas. He visits the Bikini Atoll and dives to see the ships sunk by nuclear testing. Then he ends up on the island of Saipan where a terrible battle was fought in World War II. Alfred hides in an underwater cave during a typhoon and discovers the skeletons of Japanese soldiers. While helping the islanders clean up after the typhoon, he befriends an American soldier crippled by guilt about his role in the WWII battle. Alfred’s assisting in retrieving and identifying the Japanese skeletons helps the soldier put his ghosts to rest. Alfred considers an offer to join the circus, but decides he’s not finished sailing alone yet. There will be a sequel!

     Ghosts of the Pacific is a page-turning adventure with depth. Roy has done his research, and he has a brilliant plot device with which to work. The details of sailing a submarine are fascinating even without the perilous circumstances in which the author puts Alfred, and the scope of interesting discovery is unlimited given a submarine that can sail around the world.

     Alfred is a thoughtful, practical, sympathetic narrator. The book is packed with information—geographical, historical, political—but it never feels didactic because Alfred is discovering right along with the reader. Flora and fauna of the arctic and the tropics; man’s environmental impact on the ocean; World War II: it’s not just a sightseeing trip. Alfred experiences things first-hand that most people only read about in a newspaper or textbook:

Was I sorry to have seen some of the darker things? Yes and no. But I was catching only a glimpse through a “glass darkly.” I hadn’t been here when the worst things had happened. I had seen the garbage for myself, yes, and the typhoons and shrimp trawlers, but I hadn’t seen the suicides, people on fire, or the battles or nuclear explosions. I had seen only films of those things. And it wasn’t the same. At least I wouldn’t go through life not knowing those things had happened, or were happening somewhere else right now, some of them. I wanted to know what was happening in the world, good and bad. I really did. And I believed I could make a difference. It wasn’t too late.

Written in simple, clear language, and with a plot that includes both action and introspection, Ghosts of the Pacific is appropriate for a wide range of readers. It will particularly appeal to boys and anyone who likes realistic adventure, survival stories, or stories of the sea. The “Submarine Outlaw” books would be an excellent series to have in the classroom and would make a great starting place for any number of discussions or research projects. Suspenseful, exciting, thought-provoking and fun, Ghosts of the Pacific is an enjoyable read for any age.

Highly Recommended.

Kim Aippersbach, a freelance editor and writer with three children, lives in Vancouver, BC.

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

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