Parry Sound Books

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Good Literature for Children & Adults

The Skeleton Tree by Iain Lawrence


Well, if you have a 12 to 16 year old boy in your family, I have a book for you. The Skeleton Tree by Iain Lawrence is a book that they will not be able to put down. I couldn’t either.

The story begins with 12-year-old Chris, grieving the recent death of his father, receiving an invitation from his Uncle Jack to spend a month sailing from Alaska back to his home in Vancouver. Chris’ mother thinks this will be a good distraction for her son and off he flies to join his Uncle.  Chris arrives to find there is another boy aboard, Frank, a sullen angry 16 year old. They set off, encountering a vicious storm in which the ship is sunk. Uncle Jack appears to have perished, but the boys manage to get themselves to shore in the dingy.

They find themselves in the wilderness – a truly remote place on the coast someplace between Alaska and Vancouver. It is early fall. They have nothing.  They do find a small rough cabin, a radio that works for only a moment - not long enough to allow them to identify themselves or their position. Any food that had been left has long ago been eaten by mice.

Frank has obviously had experience in the woods, he talks about hunting and fishing with his father. He is able to capture salmon in the fresh water river that flows into the ocean, and is adept at cleaning them. He knows about wild plants, and how to react when a Grizzly Bear is sighted. But, he is also a cruel and angry boy.

Chris is a kinder, gentler kid. Not a sissy so much as sensitive. All manner of trash washes up on to the beach, much of it may be debris from the Japanese Tsunami.  Chris finds it tragic and somehow consoling as he thinks of his own grief and that of others, and how much they have all lost.

The other character in the novel is a raven, which Chris names Thursday. Frank hates the raven while Chris finds him a friend. The raven becomes essential to the boys survival.

At some point both the reader and Chris wonder about Frank, and what his relationship to Uncle Jack really is. Frank reveals that his mother is an alcoholic, and it is only in a moment of weakness due to an injury that the truth is revealed, and we discover the truth about the connection between Chris, Uncle Jack, and Frank.

The Skeleton Tree is beyond doubt a great adventure story about survival in real wilderness, and a pair of resourceful boys who do their very best to survive a in truly desperate situation.


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