The Skeleton Tree

The Skeleton TreeBy Iain Lawrence

I’ve already mentioned that I love survival stories and this one is no exception.

Twelve-year-old Chris doesn’t know much about the outdoors.  His parents never taught him to fish or hunt or survive in the wild.  He’s scared of wild animals and downright terrified of mountain climbing.

Chris’s dad, who was always away on business trips, has just passed away.  Then, Chris’s Uncle Jack invites him to leave his home in Vancouver and join him on a sailing trip down the coast of Alaska.  Chris’s mom is nervous about the trip but lets him go anyway.

Chris arrives on the sailboat and, to his surprise, there is another boy there.  Frank is a few years older than Chris and obviously hates him.  But despite the awkward situation, Chris, Frank and Uncle Jack set sail.

Only hours into the trip, the sailboat is ravaged by an unexpected storm.  Chris and Frank escape to the lifeboat but Jack doesn’t make it.  After floating along for hours, the two boys finally make landfall on a deserted stretch of beach, forest and mountain in the wilds of Alaska.

Frank is a bully who constantly refers to Chris as “moron”.  But Frank knows how to fish and build fires.  The two boys find a deserted cabin (more like a shack) in the woods and make it their temporary home.

Chris also makes an unusual friend.  A raven starts hanging around the cabin and Chris adopts him as a pet, giving him the name “Thursday”.  Thursday gives Chris the affection he craves, but of course, Frank hates the raven too.

Time wears on and hope of rescue fades.  Chris and Frank must contend with some vicious animals, a shortage of food, and impending winter.  But they evolve along the way.  Chris overcomes many of his fears as he learns how to navigate the wilderness.  Chris and Frank also discover that they have some common ground, and an unexpected closeness blooms between the boys.

Ultimately, both boys only want to return to their homes and families.  But will they ever be rescued?  How long can they possibly survive?

Winner of the Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize for 2017, The Skeleton Tree is a riveting tale of two children who, against all odds, conquer their fears and learn to rely on each other.  

Highly recommended.