________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 39. . . .June 6, 2014


Life or Death: Surviving the Impossible.

Larry Verstraete.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2014.
156 pp., pbk. & html, $7.99 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4431-1951-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4431-3312-8 (html).

Subject Headings:
Survival-Juvenile literature.
Escapes-Juvenile literature.

Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-15.

Review by Myra Junyk.

***½ /4



The moment he stepped off his snowboard, Eric Le Marque realized his mistake. The snow was waist-deep and in no time his gym socks and thin pants were soaked. The fierce wind whipped through his soggy clothes, sucking heat from his body. In the blizzard Le Marque couldn’t see the distant ridge or the far-off trail that led down the mountain. “It was like I opened the door to another world,” he said. (From “Ordeal on Mammoth Mountain”.)


Larry Verstraete’s newest book contains 33 life and death situations where “the stakes are high, the chances of survival remote and the path to a positive outcome riddled with pitfalls.” (p. 1) Some of the stories are historical. “An Epidemic of Fear” describes how Polish doctors Eugene Lazowski and Stanislaw Matulewicz created faked typhoid epidemics during World War II to rescue an estimated 8000 people. “This Side Up With Care” describes the dangerous 1848 journey of Henry Brown from slavery to freedom in a wooden box! Most of the book, however, deals with stories from the recent past, stories such as “Facing the Impossible – January 17, 2011/Rakkestad, Norway” about 13-year old Walter Eikrem who escaped a wolf attack.

     The book is organized under four “Life or Death” scenarios – survival, rescue, liberation and escape. The survival stories include amazing individuals who overcame incredible odds. Hockey player Eric Le Marque survived eight days on freezing Mammoth Mountain. Despite losing both his legs below the knees to frostbite, he survived, overcame drug addiction, and made a new life for himself. Journalist Dan Woolley survived 65 hours buried under earthquake rubble in Haiti in 2010 by using his cell phone apps.

     In the “Rescue” section, readers will learn about the scientific ingenuity which saved the Apollo 13 astronauts, a daring rescue operation in Antarctica, and the incredible determination of the Chilean miners trapped for 69 days underground. In the “Liberate” section, brave individuals fight against famine in Africa, Egyptian political repression and bullying in Nova Scotia. And finally, in the “Escape” section, readers will be amazed by escapes from Communist East Berlin, German prisoner of war camps, and North Korea’s infamous Camp 14.

     Larry Verstraete has a gift for searching out interesting stories on a particular theme. In this book, he explores how individuals faced grave danger in impossible situations and survived. He is fascinated by how they use creative solutions to save themselves. Modern technology plays a critical role in several stories. Saroo Munshi Khan uses Google Earth to find his mother in India while Asmaa Mahfouz uses YouTube to rally for political change in Egypt.

     Although the stories are interesting and thought-provoking, the black and white illustrations are grainy and could use some greater graphic detail to enhance their effectiveness. Some stories are lengthy while others are short and concise. Each approach encourages readers to seek out more information using the “For Further Reading” section.

     In Life or Death, readers can read individual stories at their leisure. There is no need to read the stories in sequential order. However, the fast-paced stories are so full of exciting events that readers will be sure to quickly read the book from start to finish!

Highly Recommended.

Myra Junyk is a Toronto-based literacy advocate and author.

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

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