In the Same Boat by Holly Green; Scholastic Press, 368 pages ($18.99) Ages 14 to 18.
Texas author Holly Green offers a beguiling combination of action-packed survival tale, family drama and slow-burn romance in this very entertaining novel inspired by the Texas Water Safari canoe race (which the author's father and husband both competed in). The novel is prefaced with a quote by an unknown competitor from a Life magazine article about the 1963 Water Safari: "I was praying a snake would bite me so I could get out of this thing honorably." That gives a sense of how seriously Texans take this competition.
The Scofield family has a long tradition of competing in the grueling, 265-mile Texas River Odyssey canoe race (Green's fictional version of the actual Texas event), and 17-year-old Sadie Scofield has felt like a failure since an accident forced her and her dad to drop out midway through the race the year before. After training all year, Sadie is confident that she and her 19-year-old brother Tanner will have a shot at finishing in the top five when Tanner ditches her at the last minute to join a stronger team and Sadie's former best friend, John Cullen "Cully" Hinks, a novice paddler, offers to take his place. It's been six years since a fight between their dads ended their friendship, and the dads are not happy that Sadie and Cully are competing as a team.
Fierce, smart Sadie narrates the novel, offering both suspenseful play-by-play of the grueling competition and flashbacks of warm moments with her childhood best friend and the events – and misunderstandings – that tore them apart. The race is an extreme event and it makes for a thrilling read, as Sadie and Cully brave sunken trees, rapids, whitecaps, alligators, poisonous snakes, fire ants, sleep deprivation, hallucinations, dehydration and exhaustion. Not to mention blisters and muscle aches.
Sadie feels the full weight of last year's failure as she risks her life – and Cully's – staying on the river in a lightning storm to prove to her dad she can compete. Green amps up the tension as Sadie battles her conflicting feelings for Cully, as she coaches and scolds him through the maneuvers required to avoid sudden obstacles, as they argue over the best portage option, as he loses a paddle, as they are dumped into the water.
"We're paddling hard to get out of the shallows, which slow you down, and we're ducking under branches and then we come to a stop, right before the portage, and wait two back in line while a team struggles to lift their long, four-person boat out of the water. Boats stack up behind us. Finally it's our turn. We push up to the front, parallel to the concrete barrier. The boat rocks as we climb out. Water drips off the boat as we lift it by the handles and jog across the concrete to the other side of the island. We feed the boat back into a tiny stream and follow it into the water, where we climb back in. It's a short paddle, and then the bridge comes into view. People lean over the rail, cheering and waving. I don't even bother to look."
Sadie is a fierce competitor, driving herself to maintain a punishing pace, berating Cully for every mistake he makes, begrudging every minute he wants to rest. Slathered with diaper cream and sunscreen, competitors gulp down energy-gel packs and water along the route, stopping only briefly for support teams to resupply them and bring them real food. By the end of the race, many have dropped out, some are injured, everyone is muddy, everyone stinks.
As Sadie paddles over the miles with Cully and looks back at their close friendship growing up, she comes to a new understanding of the feud between her father and Cully's dad, to her own falling out with Cully and a new awareness of herself, of Cully and of her father's expectations.
The Renegade Reporters by Elissa Brent Weissman; Dial Books for Young Readers, 226 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 to 12.
Sixth grade journalists uncover a big story – an educational software developer profiting from data gathered from schoolchildren – in this entertaining, thought-provoking novel for middle grade readers from the author of "The Length of a String."
Aspiring TV news anchor Ashley and her camera operator, Maya, are both kicked off their Baltimore elementary school's "News at Nine" show after broadcasting embarrassing live video of their gym teacher dancing in her office in shorts and a sports bra, a video that goes viral.
So Ashley, Maya and their TV editor friend Brielle decide to go underground, researching stories on their own and broadcasting them from Ashley's basement on YouTube as "The Underground News," using the same TV editing program Van Ness Media provides their school. Ashley is determined to scoop the News at Nine team and its new anchor, Harry Levine, with a story about a bike theft from the local park and she is furious when Harry beats her on her own story.
But then her team stumbles onto a much bigger story: Van Ness Media is gathering data on all the kids at John Dos Passos Elementary School. But at a time when companies are tracking users and collecting data on everybody, will anyone care about the story? Is it really a big deal?
Brent Weissman's lively narrative (and an author's note at the end) offers the target age group much to think about when it comes to issues of online privacy.