Picture it: you’re stranded—in the woods, on a boat, on the tundra, in a desert—with scanty tools, scantier resources, and no way to call for help. The life-or-death suspense of
survival thrillers have long captivated young readers (consider
the perennial popularity of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet ), and although
they might lack the hardened PIs and shifty criminals of much of
our Mystery Showcase, the mystery of whether the characters
make it out alive is still mighty compelling.
In compiling this list, though, we stumbled upon another
mystery: there’s a surprising dearth of wilderness-survival thrillers by or featuring women or diverse characters. In 2007, Hazel
Rochman pondered this very question in “Another Look at Scott
O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins,” wondering why the New-bery-winning 1961 novel, which stars a young girl, has been an
enduring presence on library shelves while still remaining a relative abnormality in the genre. Though it’s therefore not entirely
representative of the genre as a whole, this list includes a more
diverse array of characters facing down the perils of nature.
Diamond Willow. By Helen Frost.
2008. Farrar/Frances Foster, $16
(9780374317768). Gr. 6–9.
Set in a remote part of Alaska, this
story in easy-to-read verse follows mid-dle-schooler Willow, who’s half Anglo,
half Athabascan, as she takes her injured
dog, Roxy, to her American Indian
grandparents. While on her journey, she
and Roxy are caught in a raging blizzard,
and she has only her wits and traditional
knowledge learned from her ancestors
to guide her.
The Distance between Lost and Found.
By Kathryn Holmes. 2015. Harper Teen,
$17.99 (9780062317261). Gr. 7–10.
When Hallelujah gets lost during her
church’s youth-group campout in the Tennessee mountains with former-friend Jonah
and rumor mongering Luke, their intense
quest for survival brings the trio closer as
they learn who they can trust, what they
believe, and whether they can endure.
Holmes deftly relates the teens’ struggles to
keep going and offers vivid descriptions of
nature and its sometimes terrible beauty.
BY SARAH HUNTER