Review by Ian Keogh
In 2010 a number of swimmers were seriously injured and one killed by sharks in the Egyptian seaside resort of Sharm El Sheikh, at the time considered unprecedented by experts. Imagine, then how terrified New Jersey residents were in 1916 when attacks took place not just at the shoreline, but in freshwater inlets.
Lauren Tarshis writes the successful young adult novels on which the I Survived graphic novel series is based, but it’s shoddy practice on her part not to acknowledge the work involved in adapting them on the cover. Georgia Ball’s name is once again absent, as is actual artist Gervasio. Tarshis has an appealing formula of constructing a fictional story around the true event, and the focus here is Chet, a youngster who travels around the USA, following where his father’s latest business project takes him. In 1916, though, he doesn’t go with his parents to California, instead left with his Uncle Jerry who runs a New Jersey diner.
The plot is cleverly led. Uncle Jerry believes newspaper reports about shark attacks are a hoax as sharks won’t attack humans, and that Chet has been the victim of local kids pulling a prank. When he’s actually confronted by a shark in a flash forward scene over the opening pages the extra level of his incredulity is entirely understandable. Ball brings through the conflicting emotions of a youngster still not entirely sure how the world operates, and Gervasio supplies the period detail of a time when horses pulling carts were still the main form of transportation. He supplies an idealistic summertime view of a small community and a lifestyle that looks so appealing, while the text points out the reality of children having to work.
Everything builds well to a crisis point that’s a prolonged version of the introductory pages, the tension maintained even though Chet’s escape has already been shown. However, that’s not the final crisis, and the second is even more terrifying as the I Survived title may not apply. It’s a redemption story for several people, gripping and pitched well at the young adult audience. Several pages of reference and explanatory material round off a satisfying experience. It’s possibly bleaker territory for the next volume I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944.