Kowatch combines Everglades ecology, with a tale of survival, friendship, and fantasy in this debut adventure novel for middle-grade readers.
Ocean River and Ellen Hansen, both 12 years old, are inseparable friends. After the untimely death of Ellen’s father, Ocean jeopardizes his bond with her when he accidentally disrupts the funeral. The rift grows until the two find themselves stuck together on vacation with Ellen’s mother and Ocean’s parents in Everglades National Park. When their airboat crashes, the tweens awaken to find themselves on their own, and they must work together to survive. Ocean and Ellen discover that they’re in “a freakish world” where “animals did yoga and chanted with beads, where ghosts and jumbo pythons roamed, [and] where raccoons had strange hairstyles.”
Their allies include a peaceful alligator who happens to be a “yogi master” and future king of the Everglades, a baby turtle, a wise wood stork, a fluffy dog, helpful pelicans, fierce dolphins, and a talkative lizard. These friends help them take on a mutant python and his children, scheming “playboy raccoons,” wily river otters, and up-to-no-good ospreys. The kids’ journey winds through exquisitely described swamp ecosystems, subtly distorted by man-made elements, such as global warming, pesticides, escaped exotic pets, and residual engine oil.
The rich descriptions of wildlife ecosystems make this book worth reading by all audiences; however, the action does have a cartoonish, made-for-TV feel that makes it most suitable for middle-grade readers. The book’s moral lessons are valid but still feel pat on delivery; for example, Ocean concludes too easily that “I need to live in the present moment and forgive the past, including my mistakes and [Ellen’s].”
Still, young readers will benefit from the book’s depictions of forgiveness within friendship, grief, resilience, and teamwork. (The book includes periodic black-and-white illustrations by Shinn that reflect the action of the story.)
A whimsical odyssey featuring a playfully bizarre cast of characters.