Monday, October 8, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Left for Dead by Pete Nelson

Nonfiction Monday is a weekly meme in the Kidlitosphere that invites bloggers to read and review a nonfiction book on Monday as a way to promote high-quality nonfiction titles.  Each week, a different blogger "hosts" Nonfiction Monday and provides a roundup of all the posts.

Left for Dead: A Young Man's Search for Justice for the USS Indianapolis by Pete Nelson

Just after midnight on July 30, 1945, Naval cruiser USS Indianapolis was hit by a Japanese torpedo as it sailed the shark infested waters of the Pacific Ocean.  In minutes, the cruiser was sunk, over 1,000 men were dead and over 900 others were in the water.  As they waited for rescue hundreds of the men died, victims of dehydration, starvation, injuries sustained during the sinking, hypothermia and - most frighteningly - shark attacks.  In the end, most of the men died, and the 317 survivors waited five long days for rescue.  News of the tragedy wasn't made public until two weeks later, and when it came out it was immediately overshadowed by news of Japanese surrender.

Eleven-year-old Hunter Scott was watching the movie Jaws when he first heard about the tragic sinking of the USS Indianapolis.  Intrigued, he went to the library to learn more.  Most books, if they even mentioned it at all, had fairly dry, brief paragraphs explaining that the Navy cruiser was used in World War II, sunk by a Japanese torpedo while sailing in the shark-infested Pacific Ocean, and that hundreds of sailors died.  Despite a lack of detailed information, Scott decided to take on the topic of the sinking and rescue of the USS Indianapolis as his history project.  In order to get more information, he put ads in his local newspaper (he lived in Florida) seeking to interview survivors.  What happened next changed the course of his life and history itself, and is the subject matter of this book.

Scott received an overwhelming response to his advertisement.  Survivors, most of whom had never spoken of the horrors of being adrift at sea with no hope for rescue, responded in droves to Scott's request.  He compiled all of the interviews for his project and then took it further.  The survivors, who always felt their captain was wrongly held accountable for the series of mistakes and miscommunications that caused the tragedy, began to band together.  They wanted their story known, and they wanted him absolved of wrong-doing.  After 50 years, it was a middle schooler's curiosity and   dedication to their cause that made the tide turn.  Left for Dead details both the tragedy - as taken from survivor accounts - and long-awaited redemption of the USS Indianapolis.  Author Pete Nelson masterfully weaves the two stories together, alternating between Hunter Scott's story and those of the survivors.  Riveting, infuriating, and ultimately satisfying. This is not one to miss.

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