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YA/Middle Grade Review: Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood

Title: Lifeboat 12
Author: Susan Hood
Year published: 2018
Category: YA/middle grade fiction (historical)
Pages: 336 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

SummaryIn the tradition of The War That Saved My Life and Stella By Starlight, this poignant novel in verse based on true events tells the story of a boy’s harrowing experience on a lifeboat after surviving a torpedo attack during World War II.

With Nazis bombing London every night, it’s time for thirteen-year-old Ken to escape. He suspects his stepmother is glad to see him go, but his dad says he’s one of the lucky ones—one of ninety boys and girls to ship out aboard the SS City of Benares to safety in Canada.

Life aboard the luxury ship is grand—nine-course meals, new friends, and a life far from the bombs, rations, and his stepmum’s glare. And after five days at sea, the ship’s officers announce that they’re out of danger.

They’re wrong.

Late that night, an explosion hurls Ken from his bunk. They’ve been hit. Torpedoed! The Benares is sinking fast. Terrified, Ken scrambles aboard Lifeboat 12 with five other boys. Will they get away? Will they survive?

Award-winning author Susan Hood brings this little-known World War II story to life in a riveting novel of courage, hope, and compassion. Based on true events and real people, Lifeboat 12 is about believing in one another, knowing that only by banding together will we have any chance to survive.

Review: Before I begin my review, check out the honors this book has won:
  • A Junior Library Guild Selection
  • The 2019 Golden Kite Middle Grade Fiction Award Winner
  • A 2019 ALSC Notable Children’s Book
  • The 2019–2020 Lectio Book Award Winner
  • The 2020–2021 Florida Sunshine State Young Readers Award List
  • The 2020 Oklahoma Library Association’s Children’s Sequoyah Book Award Winner
  • The Connecticut Book Award Winner
I can see why this book has done so well. It is written in verse, so moves quickly, the main character, a teenage boy, is charming and so it's easy to get pulled into his world. And it's true! The author did extensive research including finding ship manifests, reading articles, telegrams, and interviewing remaining survivors. She even has a list of whose interviews which quotes came from so much of the dialogue is even accurate.

For anyone who likes historical fiction, adventure, WWII, etc this book is one I highly recommend. There is some interesting interplay about social class, friendship, and concepts surrounding members of the British Empire at the time (think ship stewards from India).

I don't want to give away any of the details of the story, but being torpedoed in the middle of the Atlantic in 1940 was not easy. Reduced food and water, exposure to sun and salt water, and the fact that no one knew they were drifting out there all add up to an amazing story.

Challenges for which these count:
  • Children's historical:
  • Historical fiction:

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