In a fast, thrilling read, a 13-year-old boy must display courage, ingenuity, and persistence in extremely dangerous circumstances.
Terror at Bottle Creek by Watt Key. Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2015, 224 pages.
Reading Level: Middle grades, ages 10-12
Recommended for: ages 12-15, especially boys
Life on the Alabama coast isn’t so bad, especially if your dad is a river guide for sportsmen, but Cort’s mom walked out of her marriage six months ago and Dad’s not over it yet. That might be why he rushes off to see about her when a hurricane makes landfall not far from the home of Cort’s secret crush, Liza Stovall. Dad promises he’ll be back soon, and the kids just need to sit tight. But then Catfish, Cort’s panicked hound, makes a bolt for the woods with his leash wrapped around the wrist of Francie, Liza’s six-year-old sister. Cort and Liza must follow and all three kids are soon hopelessly lost–in the swamp, where “nature red in tooth and claw” is on a rampage, whipped up by the savage storm.
The story is not for the faint of heart. The night that Cort, Liza, and Francie spend in the swamp is truly terrifying (think snakes and feral hogs) and nearly the death of all three. There’s little sentimentality here; at the very least, should learn something about respecting the wild. “You’ve got to always be thinkin’ out in that swamp,” Cort’s dad has told him more than once. “It’s a pretty place, but you pull back the curtain and it gets evil real quick.” Both of Cort’s parents are problematic: his besotted Dad drove me nuts (forget about her!! Go see to your kid!), and his mom is a mystery. Cort’s relationship with her is mostly angry, though coming close to death gives him some perspective. And Dad does show up at then end–but not until Cort has used every bit of wilderness lore his father taught him, as well as the native courage God gave him, to save the girls.
Cautions: Language (mild profanity, including 2 “damns” and 2 “hells”); Violence (or the threat of it, from snakes, alligators, a wild boar and a black bear), Intense situations
Overall rating: 3.75 (out of 5)