Friday, November 25, 2011

Korman Tackles Titanic As 100th Anniversary of Sinking Nears

As the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic nears, a rash of books on the subject are being published - fiction, non-fiction and everything in between. With hundreds of volumes about the disaster already on the market, you'd think the story would be getting a little stale. Not so. At least not for me. No matter how many times I hear Titanic's tragic tale, I find it fascinating. Even though I know how the story ends, I'm riveted every time. It's not really about the history for me - although I find that interesting, too - but about the humanity. The heart-wrenching drama of it all never fails to move me.

When I heard Gordon Korman would be writing a middle grade trilogy about the greatest maritime disaster in history, I knew I needed to read it. I have to confess right up front that I haven't read a lot of Korman's books (especially considering the fact that he's written 50+) and the ones I have read haven't been all that impressive. Still, like I said, Titanic intrigues me. And guess what? Korman did the subject justice. I have my complaints, sure, but Unsinkable, Collision Course and S.O.S. are the best stories I've ever read by Gordon Korman. As a whole, I enjoyed the series - the characters, the action, even the writing. The series makes for a very decent introduction to the always compelling story of the great R.M.S. Titanic.

Book One: Unsinkable
The first volume in the series introduces us to four teenagers: Paddy Burns, a 14-year-old pickpocket from Belfast; Sophie Bronson, a wealthy Bostonian, who is also 14; Alfie Huggins, a 15-year-old cabin steward from England; and Juliana Glamm, the 15-year-old daughter of a British earl. All are aboard the Titanic for various reasons. The girls are both traveling in the luxury of First Class, while Alfie bunks with other White Star Line employees and Paddy, a stowaway, hides in whatever corner he can find. Although rules aboard the ocean liner prevent any mixing among the different classes, the kids form an unlikely friendship when their fates tie them together in what will become a desperate fight for survival.

For now, though, the teens have their own problems to worry about. Paddy's running away from the bloodthirsty Irish crime boss who just killed his best friend when he accidentally becomes a stowaway on Titanic. The ship's so enormous, he knows it's unlikely anyone will discover his presence. Except people do. Now, Paddy's got to keep out of sight or risk capture by enemies both old and new. Sophie's mortified when she and her mother are escorted onto the ship by police. She's had enough drama and just wants to get home without calling any more attention to herself. In truth, though, she's terribly lonesome. When she meets three new friends, she'll get caught up in new adventures in spite of herself. Alfie's happy to be working aboard the same ship as his father, a stoker down in Boiler Five, even if he did have to lie about his age to snag the job. He won't do anything to jeopardize his position as a junior steward, especially not aid a stowaway. Unfortunately, the stowaway knows Alfie's secret - and will go straight to Captain Smith about it if Alfie refuses to help him. As part of England's uppercrust, Juliana seems to have no problems. What people don't know is that her family's fortune has run out due to her father's incessant gambling. If she can't convince him to stop betting away the last of their money, they'll lose everything.
As each member of the quartet struggles with his or her own personal problems, they get entangled in each other's as well.

Book Two: Collision Course


Titanic's voyage has barely begun and junior steward Alfie Huggins already has a lot on his plate. Between serving his demanding First Class passengers; keeping an eye on Paddy, the stowaway; and trying to make time to hang out with his Da, he's got plenty to do. Then, he finds a strange object in the baggage hold: a macabre scrapbook full of newspaper clippings about Jack the Ripper and weird souveniers that seem to have been collected by the killer himself. Alfie's certain that England's most notorious murderer is on Titanic. What's worse, he's one of the people the junior steward is being paid to attend to. His friends aren't convinced, but Alfie knows that if the violent criminal isn't stopped, no one in America is safe. It's up to him to expose the man's real identity. But what if he's wrong?

Meanwhile, Paddy's stirring up trouble all over the boat, Juliana discovers the real reason her father's taking her to America and Sophie's helping Alfie track down a killer. Danger seems to be lurking in even the most unexpected of places. But when Titanic hits an iceberg, danger takes on a whole new meaning ...


Book Three:S.O.S.
As Titanic begins to fill with water, Paddy, Sophie, Alfie and Julianna scrabble to understand what's going on. Chaos reigns as all the passengers begin to realize that the "unsinkable" ship is really and truly going down. With not enough room in the lifeboats for everyone on board, hasty, life-or-death decisions must be made. Who will live? Who will die?

The teenagers' concerns aren't only for themselves. They must find their loved ones - Sophie's mom, Juliana's dad, the kindly Mrs. Rankin and, of course, Alfie's father, who's stuck in the boilers with the rest of the "black gang." As time runs out for the great Titanic and all of her passengers, our four young heroes will face the fight of their lives - to save their friends, their families and, if they're lucky, themselves.

My thoughts on the series:

Although the story of the Titanic brings its own drama, Korman enhances the story with some extra mystery and adventure. This keeps the tale exciting, while getting the reader even more invested in the characters' fates. While Korman focuses mostly on the action/adventure aspects of the story, he doesn't skimp on his story people - they're sympathetic, interesting and relatable. I cared about them, rooted for them and wanted them all to make it to safety. While the second book gets a little too copycat for me (not factwise, but fictionwise - some of its scenes/plot devices come straight out of Titanic, the movie), overall, I enjoyed this series quite well.

(Readalikes: Dear America: Voyage on the Titanic by Ellen Emerson White; I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic by Lauren Tarshis; and The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf)


Series Grade: B-


If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild language, violence and intense situations


To the FTC, with love: I received copies of all the books in this trilogy from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!

(Book images are from Barnes & Noble)

1 comment:

  1. Yes you are right the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S on 15th April in this year and it was a huge ship and with the sinking of it approximately 1500 peoples are dead.

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