May 17, 2015

Book Review: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Book Review - The Boys in the Boat 

Title: The Boys in the Boat: The True Story of an American Team's Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics
Author: Daniel James Brown

A beloved story about the Greatest Generation
freshly adapted for the next generation

Berlin, 1936. The Olympic finals of the eight-oared rowing race. Germany, Italy, USA. The American boat touches the finish line first, beating all odds and sending Hitler away in a silent rage. In the midst of the Great Depression, the nine rowers showed the world what true grit really meant. They were western, working-class boys who never expected to beat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did. At the center of the tale is Joe Rantz, whose personal struggle—and ultimate triumph—captures the spirit of his generation, the one that would prove in the coming years that the Nazis could not prevail over American determination and optimism.

This deeply emotional yet easily accessible middle-grade 
adaptation of the New York Times bestselling The Boys in the 
Boat shows readers how we can find hope in the most desperate of times.

Let me begin by saying that I am an avid reader - an avid reader of fiction - so to pick up a nonfiction book is quite difficult for me.  Being that I have asked my students this past school year to broaden their horizons and read genres that they normally wouldn't, I have expected the same for myself and have read a few nonfiction books as well.  At times, I have struggled to reach the end of these nonfiction books, but this was not the case for The Boys in the Boat.  

Brown writes in the prologue, "But it was when [Joe] tried to talk about 'the boat' that the tears welled up in his bright eyes."  I could picture Joe Rantz, the main focus of the book, talking with Daniel Brown and having this immense pride for what he and the rest of the crew accomplished and yet knowing he would never experience that again.  It was clear from the prologue that being on the crew meant the world to Joe, and his story needed to be told.  

I truly enjoyed this book, but I had to put myself in the shoes of a middle school reader, as that is who this version of the book is written for.  Yes, there is the adult version, so grab that if you are looking for a more in-depth read.  For a middle grade reader, though, this book is as in-depth as it needs to be.  The story of Joe, his family, and their struggles is one that is told with honesty.  I was so frustrated and angry at times that I wanted to yell at Joe's dad and step-mother Thula. Joe's ability to survive on his own at such a young age, put himself through college, and win the gold in the Olympics makes him seem super-human, but Brown makes Joe easily accessible and relatable to the reader - especially a middle school reader.  Middle school students can easily relate to the topics of growing up, overcoming adversity, belonging, and "dreaming big." The Boys in the Boat kept me turning the pages, and it will keep any reader, young and old, captivated with the story of the hard-working boys from Washington who did what only the elite from the East Coast could supposedly do. 

From advanced readers to readers who are still developing, kids will want to read this book!  (And so will adults!)

1 comment:

  1. This really does sound terrific. My grandson loves history, so I will get this one for him and he can read it right after I'm done. ;-) Thanks.