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Children's Book Reading Challenge...For Adults!

Friday, November 05, 2021

Gripping World War II Verse Novel Perfect for Reluctant Readers

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I've read a lot of books about World War II—a lot—and I don't remember ever hearing of the S.S. City of Benares before picking up Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood. This middle-grade verse novel tells the true story of 13-year-old Ken Sparks, who gained a coveted spot on the ocean liner, which was taking young war evacuees away from the bombing in London and delivering them to safe homes in Canada. At first, he and the other kids are having the time of their lives feasting on lobster and caviar, playing with piles of new toys, and exploring their posh floating digs. Just as they've been declared safe from the possibility of being torpedoed by the Germans, however, the City of Benares sustains a direct hit. Soon, Ken finds himself floating in the middle of the North Atlantic on a small lifeboat with 6 other boys, 5 British sailors, 32 Lascars (Asian sailors), 1 businessman, 1 priest, 1 female escort, and few supplies. As the days pass with no sign of rescue, things become increasingly desperate on Lifeboat 12. Who will live and who will die in the desperate fight for survival that ensues?

Ken's story is tense and gripping, interspersed with passages that illustrate the utter boredom of sitting in a boat waiting for rescue day after day after day. The verse format gives the tale an appealing you-are-there immediacy that makes it even more impactful. Lifeboat 12's passengers are sympathetic folks, people for whom you can't help but root. For those of us whose favorite part of a historical novel is the author's notes at the end, Lifeboat 12 has a wealth of backmatter that includes photos, an interview with Ken Sparks, and a factual recounting of the real-life event. All of these elements combine to create an exciting, compelling story that is perfect for reluctant readers as well as anyone who enjoys a gripping survival tale, especially those based on a true story.

(Readalikes: Reminds me of the Titanic series by Gordon Korman, the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis, and books by Alan Gratz


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence, scary images, and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find


  1. I love when authors can pull off writing an interesting story like this one in verse. Am putting this one on my TBR list. :)

  2. Like you, I hadn't heard about this, but it sounds very good! I am going to see if I can get ahold of a copy

  3. I haven't heard of this either. I will have to go on a hunt for the book.

  4. This does sound gripping! I am a sucker for books in verse. I love them, and I think the writing is poetic and impactful. I need to get this!

  5. This sounds very interesting. My father was evacuated from London during the war, but he didn't go to Canada until after the war. I never knew they evacuated some of the children to Canada.

  6. This sounds like a book that I would very much enjoy. Thanks for putting it on my radar, Susan

  7. Very interesting, i like the sound, make my spirit turn on again. Thanks Susan.


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