“On May 13, 1945, twenty-four officers and enlisted men and women stationed on what was then Dutch New Guinea boarded a transport plane for a sightseeing trip over “Shangri-La,” a beautiful and mysterious valley surrounded by steep, jagged mountain peaks deep within the island’s uncharted jungle. But the pleasure tour became an unforgettable battle for survival when the plane crashed.” This excerpt from the publisher description provides a mere introduction to the fascinating nonfiction title being reviewed today.
Michael Zuckoff’s adventure story has been garnering raves and tons of press, including a segment on NPR’s All Things Considered.
Give this to young readers who enjoyed Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand or Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson.
Adult/High School–This gripping book, dubbed “the last untold story of World War II,” tells of three people who survived a plane crash in New Guinea. In a remote jungle, they discovered cannibalistic natives as well as their own survival skills. Margaret Hastings, 30, volunteered for military service because she longed for adventure. She got more than she bargained for. After surviving the plane wreck, and watching friends die, she suffered gangrene and lived without food and medicine for weeks. Luckily, the natives became less threatening when Hastings and her friends learned to communicate with them, and the friends were successful at protecting each other. Although there are no teenagers in this story, Hastings–resilient, courageous, funny–will appeal to teen readers. The story of her struggle for survival is intense and raw, with many stomach-churning scenes. Many teens enjoy graphic scenes, so it is easy to imagine this book, with all of its mentions of rotting flesh and amputation, as being admired by this readership. Unfortunately, the second half of the book is much slower than the first. Once the plane crash survivors have made contact with a rescue team, the tension fizzles. Only students with a deep curiosity in aviation or the military will be interested in the long, drawn-out chapters that focus on the rescue team and the logistics of their mission. Despite this criticism, the book deserves a place in libraries that want to showcase dramatic historical moments and the achievements of women in the military.–Jess deCourcy Hinds, Bard H.S. Early College, Queens, NY