Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert
By Marc Aronson
Atheneum Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Simon & Schuster)
Ages 10 and up
On shelves August 30, 2011
The notion that history is always happening isn’t necessarily obvious to a kid. I remember have several moments of revelation when I was younger, realizing time and time again that the folks we studied in school were real. That they walked around like I did. History has a tendency to play out like a movie when you’re young. You might be moved but you wouldn’t necessarily be able to wrap your head around the notion that there but for the grace of God go I. To hammer this notion home it might be advisable to find moments in recent history that have been recorded for all of posterity. Like, say, the Chilean miner incident of 2010. A lot of kids (as of this review) would remember when that was in the news. Yet they might not think of that as a historical incident yet. Enter Trapped by Marc Aronson. Here we have a book that sheds some light on the story that hypnotized the world. With its natural tension and everyday heroes, Trapped is that rarest of nonfiction beasts: A contemporary work of historical fact that has you gripping the edge of your seat.
The collapse of a San Jose mine on August 5, 2010 wasn’t anything the world hadn’t seen before. Mines collapse all the time. It’s a dangerous occupation. The difference here, of course, was the fact that the 33 men trapped 2,300 feet underground were still alive. Suddenly the world was riveted by their story. Would the rescuers be able to find them? And even if they did, how would they get them out? Backmatter to this true tale includes brief biographies of each of the thirty-three miners, a Timeline, a Glossary of Names and Terms, a word on “The World of the Miner” by a miner, a note to students, Notes and Sources, a Bibliography, a list of interviewed subjects, Useful Websites, and an Index.
A good work of nonfiction for kids makes you want to keep reading, even when you know the outcome. When I pick up a book like Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming, I love that I feel like there may be a chance that they’ll find Ms. Earhardt this time. Similarly, when I read Trapped I have to feel like there’s a chance that they won’t rescue the miners this time. Indeed there were several moments when it really seemed as though the miners wouldn’t be found. Aronson parcels out this tension, knowing better than to fill the narrative with foreshadowing or some kind of false narrative technique. And like Fleming’s book he makes sure to tell two different stories at once. We are both with the miners and with the rescuers as the tale unfolds.
Mr. Aronson is a fan of context. It isn’t enough to know that this story takes place 2,000 feet below the Chilean Desert. He must show you how that desert was formed. And it isn’t enough to simply know that these men were farmers of items like copper. He’s inclined to give you the very history of copper itself, going so far as to tie it into scenes from The Lightning Thief or Harry Potter (sometimes inexplicably). For me, these sidenotes distracted from the larger (and more interesting) story. I know why Aronson has included them, but most of this information appears at the beginning of the book in a big lump. I would have preferred it to be integrated evenly throughout the text. That way a sentence like, “Today, the average American uses sixteen pounds of copper a year” will have the adequate oomph it deserves.
Aronson writes for both child and teen readers, and you’re never quite certain which he’ll write for next. In this particular case he’s made certain that this book would appeal to kids as well as those in the throes of adolescence. Of course, to do that he has to tiptoe around some interesting issues. I didn’t follow the disaster very closely when it was occurring back in 2010, but one thing I do remember is hearing that one of the miners had the awkward problem of being visited via the hole by both his wife and his mistress. You’ll find no mention of that fact in this book. There are points where the men resolve to become better people when they leave the mine, and there’s a point where Aronson condemns the sordid stories that the press indulged in at times, regarding the miners’ personal lives as nothing more than tabloid fodder. Nothing sordid makes it onto these pages, though. Later we read an account of the items that were lowered to the miners. Amongst the listed objects is “a picture of a pretty girl”. Call me dirty minded, but it is possible that picture was more than just that. It doesn’t matter, though. That’s not the story that’s being told here.
At the end of Trapped Aronson includes a section called “How I Wrote This Book: And what I learned that could be useful for students writing research reports (and a couple of last thoughts from men I interviewed). The section distinguishes nicely between original research and merely trolling the web. The book certainly works as an example of how to do research, but I suspect that the primary readers will be those kids eaten up by curiosity. How does a person survive for months under the ground? How do you fight off the claustrophobia? And how do you rescue someone if you can’t quite get a lock on where precisely they are? Trapped seeks to answer all these questions and, in doing so, satisfies a variety of different kinds of readers. If you’re looking for an account of recent history with a happy ending (no small feat no matter what the year) seek ye no further. This, as they say, is it.
On shelves August 30, 2011
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
Misc: Happy Nonfiction Monday! Lori Calabrese Writes! has today’s round-up. Check it out for more tasty nf fare.